FOOD: Rutabaga — a great addition to garden, dinner tableI’ve been in a root vegetable mode lately. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve made some borscht soup that contained beets and carrots, seafood stir-fry that featured jicama and some potatoes that were mashed with rutabagas.
By: Jeff Tiedeman, Grand Forks Herald
I’ve been in a root vegetable mode lately. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve made some borscht soup that contained beets and carrots, seafood stir-fry that featured jicama and some potatoes that were mashed with rutabagas.
Soon, I’ll be digging the parsnips that were planted last spring and allowed to stay in the ground during the winter. Some of them will be blanched, vacuum-sealed and frozen for later use, while the rest will be sauteed in a little butter and eaten fresh. I can’t wait!
And when it’s time to plant my garden in about a month or so, I’ll be covering seeds of all those vegetables — except the jicama — with some nice black dirt, so by the time September rolls around, I’ll be flush with produce.
During the years, I’ve become very familiar with all of those veggies. But one never has been a part of any of my 30 or so gardens — the rutabaga, a member of the crucifer family, although it is one of the main ingredients of my dad’s homemade vegetable beef soup recipe.
This spring, that’s going to change. I plan on sowing some rutabaga seeds.
Although the rutabaga has been around for quite a long time (it’s been marketed in the U.S. for nearly 200 years and thought to have originated in central Europe), many people are unfamiliar with it.
(Did you know that in Ireland, turnips and rutabagas were hollowed out and a small ember put in them to ward off demons and devils, the first jack-o’-lanterns.)
You’ve probably seen it in the produce section of your local supermarket. It’s the purplish- and tan-looking vegetable that’s shaped like a softball (with relatively rough skin) and has a layer of wax coating (which you peel before eating). Some weigh as much as 2 pounds.
Despite its relative obscurity in the U.S., the rutabaga appears to be gaining in popularity. It’s featured on many restaurant menus in major cities, and Cumberland, Wis., has a “Rutabaga Festival” annually, the weekend before the Labor Day weekend.
On the lighter side, the International Rutabaga Curling Championship takes place annually at the Ithaca, N.Y., farmer’s market in December, and the Advanced Rutabaga Study Institute Web site offers a tongue-in-cheek look at the ofttimes maligned veggie.
A cross between a cabbage and a turnip, the rutabaga has few calories, is low-fat, rich in beta carotene and a decent source of fiber. It also has a good mineral content including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese. A 3½-ounce cooked serving also contains 35 percent of the RDA for vitamin C.
Besides mashing them (with or without potatoes) or dicing for soups, there are hundreds of ways to enjoy rutabagas. You can eat them raw as a snack, add them to salads, roast, boil, steam, stir-fry (with onions) or stew them.
Rutabagas store well, as long as one month in the refrigerator. Buy ones that are firm, solid and heavy for their size. The skin should be free of major damage, but the scarring around the top are natural. Smaller ones generally are sweeter and milder.
From what I’ve read, rutabagas are a fairly easy veggie to grow, requiring 80 to 100 days to mature. They tolerate poor soils but will grow better in richer garden soils. And they do require ample water during the growing season.
The way our weather’s been the past six to eight months, I don’t envision lack of water being a problem. And not many other places can match the topsoil of the Red River Valley.
I can almost taste the first batch of next fall’s homemade vegetable soup.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.