Dazed and confused about turnips? (Or just curious about progressive vegetable obsession?)
I did some research.
To begin, I needed some lab turnips for empirical study. To that end Mr O and I went shopping in a large grocery store. They did have turnips, and also rutabagas. But the signage was confusing.
“These (A) are the turnips,” Mr O announced.
“No,” I said. “These (B) are the turnips.”
“No,” Mr O said. “Those (B) are rutabagas. These (A) are turnips.”
His rutabagas closely resembled the turnips called neeps, the ones used as Halloween lanterns in Scotland, but Mr O insisted they were rutabagas and that the white and red ones were turnips.
I noticed, as we chatted, or possibly argued, there among the root vegetables, that a tall, well-dressed gentleman was bagging up some of the so-called rutabagas. So I sensibly sought his advice.
He was accomodating and cheerful and spoke with what seemed to be a British accent but with just a hint of Australia, as if he’d spent time in both countries. He said his grandfather had taught him to use the turnips (B) in soups, and parsnips as well. He was clear and very enthusiastic. (Oddly, he seemed to think I was quite funny with my research questions. And I utterly failed to ask about “neeps” — a missed opportunity about which I have great regret.)
I selected the two vegetables (A & B), plus a parsnip (for additional study) and, still arguing, Mr O and I proceeded to the check-out stand.
A lovely young woman added up our purchases. She got to the vegetables. “Do you know what this (B) is?” I asked. No, she had no idea what it (B) was. She did recognize the parsnip but I had to suggest the name. She felt that (A) might be a turnip.
Then I impulsively stopped at the manager’s desk, veggies in hand, and asked him what he thought they were. (Mr. O was getting a little anxious about my continued survey at this point, but I was immersed in the study and I forged on.) The manager was confident about the red and white turnip (A) and when offered the term “rutabaga” he did immediately apply it to the other one (B).
There was a jewelry shop in the same big building, adjacent to the grocery. Without hesitation I carried my vegetables to the man selling diamonds. “Excuse me,” I said. (And let me just note here that I was not in the least maniacal or otherwise of questionable demeanor or voice as I continued my study so really I don’t know why Mr O was looking quite so uncomfortable.)
The diamond seller was friendly and anxious to help but when I produced the vegetables and asked his opinion he looked like an unprepared student being hit with a pop-quiz. “Ask that man over there,” he suggested, and he pointed back across the way to a grocery store employee, a handsome and confident looking young man who seemed like someone who would know tons about everything.
“That (A) is a turnip,” this young man said in an off-handed way. (I learned it can be hard to get people to take root vegetables seriously.) “I don’t know that the other one is,” he said. “But they turn up now and then.” And he laughed at his terrible joke.
I seriously considered polling some of the other customers but I didn’t think Mr O could take any more so we went home.
I was excited to try samples.
Here is the parsnip on the surgical table. To me this particular parsnip tasted like a not very sweet tough carrot. So I would skip parsnips in favor of carrots, unless this was just a freak bad parsnip in which case I know I will be advised.
After grueling research, both in the field (store) and online, I believe the above vegetable to be generally known as a turnip. It is also sometimes called a White Turnip. Or Brassica rapa, or even “Queen of the Root Vegetables.” It is very round and smooth and dressed in a red-purple and white ensemble with crispy white inside. Uncooked, it tastes like a big mild radish. I liked it. And I thought it was pretty. Mr O thought it too spicy and didn’t like it.
Someone online suggested that the neep (B) was created from a cross between a turnip (A) and a cabbage. Now I had a hard time with my brief genetics study in college, but a turnip/cabbage affair seems about as plausible as crossing a rhododendon with a duck. But I am astonished by many things in the world…
I sampled the uncooked neep and found it was mild but had a bitter aftertaste. I was surprised when Mr O declared it sweet and wonderful and better than carrots and yes we must have acres of neeps in future gardens.
WHAT HAVE I DONE?
Acres of neeps? (Will I have to resort to neep cooking experiments like those executed by our intrepid Fay, without regard to personal risk or possible disaster, gambling ALL for the sake of research?) [Note to Fay: please forward goggles and white coat in time for next year’s neep harvest.]
I sliced the parsnip, and I added it and the cubed neeps and turnips to a pot of chicken soup.
I couldn’t distinguish any of the vegetables when cooked. Actually they might have all been potatoes (tatties) as far as the taste of the cooked cubes. But the soup was very good, and I expect all the vegetables added to the flavor mix and the nutritional value.
But mostly I had a good time at the grocery store.