Rutabagas, A delightful culinary reality or famine food, or worse?

With Thanksgiving just around the corner and our larder filled with a significant poundage of rather robust rutabagas, and that means some pushing ten pounds, it seems an appropriate time to consider the fate of this root crop. For reasons unknown, this turnip variant had a year like no other, one where a Russian peasant farmer in 1910 would’ve seen himself as the savior of the continent. A few as twelve of my rutabagas could have fed his family of five, his three cows and one hog for a month. I don’t know what got into them, that would be the rutabagas, not the Russians, but they must have thought there was a famine coming.

But not one to look to ‘bagas for premonitions, but because I think of myself as a thoughtful individual, this windfall, or rootfall if you will, has to have some sort of a happy ending, or at least a genuine attempt to capitalize on this good fortune. The question is, could they be put to good use?

My wife of these many years, has for some time, viewed the act of growing “the damn” things as a waste of garden space and only useful for life styles similar to the one mentioned above or for the folks Karl Marx may have referred to as the ‘unwashed masses’. But, I have always been fascinated with them, not only for their taste in a nice beef stew, but for their willingness to grow under almost any condition. Plus, they do seem to have some nutritional value—I think.

This year the rutabagas were planted in left over places in the garden, or where other items had failed. Global climate change be damned, they took off like an Atlas missile, looking more like a redwood tree than a humble root crop. If I want to give thanks for them there has to be a justification. I don’t have pigs, nor a cow, not even a goat so just how do they stack up as a consumable crop.

It is easy to note that no one seems to grow them as they would in a giant potato field even though they would develop in great tonnage. They’re not bland like the pomme de terre (spud locally) but more dynamic, almost like a big radish. Maybe they need to be more of a platform for featuring a tasteful topping.

Ann just says, “I’ll eat a little bit of them but frankly, but I don’t need no stinking thirty pounds of famine food.” I usually remark, “Ya, they have that reputation, but could we just save them for the revolution. You know, ‘come the revolution’.” I am usually reminded to get a life, or maybe go fishing.

“Listen, we could live on this pile for weeks.” She might then reply, “Sure could—you and those three goats at Bill’s place.”

I deep-fried some, pan-fried others, stewed a small pile and even mashed them as if they were potatoes but while they did get eaten, it never got to the point where anyone will be praising them during our Thanksgiving feast.

 In a fit of desperation, I dropped a note to Eleonore, the local purveyor of tasteful exotic food, thinking she might be able to offer an intellectual discourse on the merits of this fine root crop. With a touch of history, mostly blaming Scandinavians (my people) for their introduction, her comment went like this. “Rutabaga, affectionately referred to as Swede and Snagger in the English Commonwealth, is the unfortunate lovechild between the cabbage and the turnip. Many believe this almost inedible tuber originated in Scandinavia or Russia. A Swiss botanist Gaspard Bauhin offered the first printed reference in 1620, where he notes that it was growing wild in Sweden.

 She then added,”Since childhood, rutabaga roots have brought a grimace to my face, however, in later years I have realized the leaves are quite palatable when paired with extreme hunger or a nice bottle of Scotch. These days my favorite use of the rutabaga is carving ghastly faces into them to scare away hoodlums on All Hallows Eve.”

Oh boy, It’s beginning to look like, try as I may to give them away to vegetarians, or to introduce them in to our personal diet, we will have to buy a goat, maybe a brace of odiferous Berkshire hogs, or dry them for firewood as proposed by our grandson, they will not be offered much praise at this Thanksgiving.