Rutabaga is the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables. It gets no respect. This cross between a cabbage and a turnip is little known even in areas with cool season climates, where it grows best. This, perhaps, stems from its origin as animal fodder in southern Europe. But Scandinavians soon discovered that rutabaga provided a welcome addition to fall and winter fare, so much so, that another common name for the vegetable is swede.
The cruciferous crop suffered further indignity at the Ithaca (New York) Farmers’ Market, where more than a decade ago, some vendors started what has become the International Rutabaga Curl to use up their excess produce. Participants pitch the vegetables at a circular target 79 feet distant (the official length of a curling court.) This year, a local columnist suggested that the Des Moines Farmers’ Market form its own rutabaga curling team to challenge the New Yorkers. Who knows? If this catches on, perhaps rutabaga curling will become an Olympic sport, and bring the vegetable some deserved recognition.
I grew rutabagas in my garden for the first time this year. It turns out to have been a great year for them in Iowa because we had one of the coolest and wettest summers on record. Normally rutabagas are harvested when they reach about 3 to 5 inches in diameter, but I left some in the ground until this last week. The fused pair of rutabagas at right measured 9 inches across and weighed in at 9 pounds! The roots keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 months.
The traditional way to serve rutabaga is cooked and mashed, similar to potatoes. I remember our elementary school cooks, Olga and Hilda, serving them up on occasion as part of our hot lunch program in Minnesota. I wasn’t impressed with the dish. But then, it WAS a school lunch.
I’ve since learned to appreciate the mildly tangy crunch of raw rutabagas. Remove the purplish skin to reveal the creamy yellow heart of the root. Slice lengthwise and serve as is, or dress with a creamy dip. Your kids (or spouse) may be fooled into thinking they’re eating uncooked French fries. Recently when I took some to work, the slices aroused curiosity. Guesses as to their identity included potato and jicama, which they do resemble when served this way. Some described the flavor as a cross between cauliflower and turnip, which isn’t far off from the plant’s true origin.
Have you grown rutabagas in your garden? Why not give them a try next year? If you decide you don’t like them, you can always start up a rutabaga curling league.
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