This year was the first year we've grown rutabaga. For years we totally ignored the gloriously golden rutabaga pictures in the seed catalog, assuming that they would be of little interest to our customers. Actually, we laughed at those poor catalog rutabaga, since they always had majestic variety names like Joan and Helanor, which led me to imagine them for some reason piled up roasted on a platter as the last meal Joan of Arc would eat before going off to battle.
This year, Matt got into his head that we absolutely must grow rutabagas. So we did, but we honestly didn't pay much attention to them since as an experiment they were one of our less important crops and we were really strapped on water and time (and we assumed that no one would like them anyway).
Because they kept growing despite not getting a lick of water for week after week, they rapidly evolved into a running joke where their starring role was as our main post-apocalypse food. This became less funny after we researched them a lot more and learned that the reason they aren't eaten much in mainland Europe now is that after WWII wracked its apocalypse, rutabaga were one of the only foods that grew and most Europeans of that post-war period ate them until they could eat them no more.
But when fall came and we harvested and actually ate our first rutabagas, we fell madly in love with this crop. They don't taste at all like the bland, heavily waxed rutabaga in the store, but like something nutty and golden and assertively sweet and delicious. Which is good, because that one tiny trial seed packet yielded a kazillion pounds of rutabaga (so you should rush to our markets this month and load up on rutabaga to enjoy yourself before they pass by!).
Botanically, they are the offspring of turnips and cabbage that likely came together in 1600s Scandinavia or Russia. They first were popularized in 17th century Sweden, where their name means "round root" (hence why they are sometimes called "swedes"), before moving to England (where they are called "turnip-rooted cabbages"). They were also popular in colonial America because they are large roots and can bust up rough soils as well as handle all kinds of neglect (as we learned!). They can't handle warmth, so currently Canada is the hotbed of 'baga culture, but apparently they quite like Fenner as well!
Handling and Storing Rutabaga:
- Rutabaga can be used interchangeable with with turnips, though they have a much milder brassica flavor than many of the brassica greens like cabbage (which is a plus in our books). They do have stronger flavor than turnips, so they can stand up well in a pairing with meat or spicy foods. They are very nutritious, with lots of vitamins, especially A, C, and calcium
- They are freshest in late fall and throughout winter. The wax used on the ones in the store is to trap in humidity--if you store ones from us (which are unwaxed), it's best to do so in a bag in the crisper. We anticipate ours storing through the end of March to mid April.
- You should scrub them off well and cut off any funny areas. You can peel them, but don't need to--the skin is where a lot of the nutrients are! If you buy them from the store and they are waxy, definitely peel them!
Preparation and General Cooking Ideas:
- Roasted: I should confess, I'm pretty much obsessed with eating them just one way--chopped into cubes, roasted in spices and olive oil at 375 to 400 until slightly crispy (just under an hour). I've been experimenting with different spices and they seem to work well with most things--I particularly like salt and pepper, paprika, dill, and basil. They also go well with citrus juices and jests squeezed onto them. I can actually eat a whole one roasted up this way (once I start, I can't seem to stop!). They are insanely sweet.
- Raw and Grated: They are good raw in a slaw (think with carrots, radishes, and apples with a light oil dressing), or you can grate them up for fritters and latkes.
- Steamed or Boiled: In either of these preparations, you want to chop them into 1-inch cubes. They usually take 30+ minutes steaming or 20+ minutes boiling. We also really enjoy boiling them up with potatoes and mashing them all together. I usually use one third 'baga to two thirds potatoes, and top with chives.
- In other dishes: They are a great complement to other root vegetables (I bake them sometimes with carrots, potatoes, or beets), as a base or filler in soups and chowders, or in any other dish that calls for turnips or potatoes. You can also substitute them for sweet potatoes--the taste will differ, but they work well with those cooking methods.
Come grab your 'bagas at one of our March markets (Saturday the 5th at 20 East in Cazenovia, Thursday the 10th at Fayetteville Town Plaza, or Saturday the 19th at the Cazenovia Legion). Otherwise, you may have to be patient for your shot at this deliciousness until next October!