Turnips and Rutabagas
(Brassica rapa and napobrassica, respectively)
One of the oldest cultivated foods--some 5000 years ago--turnips probably sustained early foraging peoples long before the principles of cultivation were understood. Ancient caves in China have produced evidence of prehistoric man eating raw turnips--and, later, with the harnessing of fire, eating roasted turnips. Ancient caves in France are decorated with paintings that show turnips being boiled in clay pots.
Called the "potato of ancient cuisines," turnips famously nourished the poor. One snotty society even decreed that its nobles were forbidden to eat them BECAUSE they were only good enough for the lower classes.
Greeks knew them well. Pliny, in fact, discusses long turnips, flat turnips, and round turnips, such were the number of varieties under cultivation. And in early Rome--3rd century BC Rome--the story goes that Curius Dentatus, brilliant Roman military strategist, was targeted by the Samnites, who wished to bribe him into joining their ranks against his own countrymen. Their plot was abandoned when they discovered him cooking his own meal of turnips in the ashes of a fire. Why? They knew they could not tempt a man so spartan in his diet, not for all the riches in their coffers.
Later, Roman nobility changed their mind about the humble root; they loved to dress them up and eat them, cooking them to a paste, stirring oil, honey, and vinegar into them, then dousing them with strong cumin and rue.
Then, what about Captain Frederick Marryat's comments about "There's no getting blood out of a turnip"?...
And don't forget the ironic story from the Brothers Grimm about greed, nobility, and justice, entitled "The Turnip":
There were once two brothers who both served as
soldiers, and one was rich and the other was poor.
The poor one, wishing to better himself, discarded his
uniform and worked like a peasant. He dug and hoed
his little field and sowed turnips. The seed came up, and
one of the turnips grew to such an enormous size that it
seemed as though it would never stop growing. It might have been called the Queen of turnips, for its like had never been seen before nor ever will be again. At last it was
so big that it filled a cart and needed two oxen to draw it.
The peasant could not imagine what would come of it,
whether it would bring good luck or bad.
At last he said to himself, "If I sell it what shall I gain? I might eat it, but the little turnips would do as well for that. The best thing will be to take it to the King and offer
it to him."
So he loaded a cart, harnessed two oxen, and took it to the court to present it to the King.
"What is this extraordinary object?" asked the King. ''I
have seen many marvels in my time, but never anything so
remarkable as this. What seed did it spring from? Perhaps
it belongs to you, especially if you are a child of good
"Oh no," said the peasant. "Lucky I certainly am not, for
I am a poor soldier, who, since he could keep himself no longer, hung up his uniform on a nail and tills the earth. I have a brother who is rich and well known to you, my Lord King. But I, because I have nothing, am forgotten by all the world.
Then the King pitied him and said, "Your poverty shall
be at an end, and you shall receive such rich presents
from me that your wealth will equal that of your brother."
Thereupon he gave him plenty of gold, lands, fields,
and flocks, and enriched him with precious stones so that
the other brother's wealth could not be compared with his.
Now when the rich brother heard what his brother
with the single turnip had acquired, he envied him and
pondered how he might gain a like treasure for himself.
But he wanted to show himself much cleverer, so he
took gold and horses and presented them to the King, feeling certain that he would give him a far handsomer gift. For if his brother got so much for a turnip what would not he get for his beautiful things?
The King took the present, saying that he could give him in return nothing rarer or better than the huge turnip. So the rich brother had to put his brother's turnip into a cart and have it taken home.
And what about rutabagas? These fibrous yellow turnips, or swedes as they're called (Brassica napobrassica), were immortalized in my young mind by Carl Sandburg's short tale "How They Broke Away to Go to the Rootabaga Country."
That said, the French agree that the rutabaga is edible, but don't think it's fit for human consumption.
And so if you are going to the Rootabaga Country you will know when you get there, because the railroad tracks change from straight to zigzag, the pigs have bibs on and it is the fathers and mothers who fix it." And don't forget your "long slick yellow leather slab ticket with a blue spanch across it."
For a completely different perspective, please visit The Advanced Rutabaga Studies Institute. This deliciously excessive site will warm the cockles of any attorney's heart and provide links to such high brow song lyrics (written by Paul Shelasky and recorded in 1977 by him with The Good Ol' Persons) as the following:
I got rutabaga skins for the clothes that I wear.
Rutabaga extract to wash my hair.
Rutabaga vapor instead of gas.
Rutabaga paper to wipe my ... nose.
Do the rutabaga boogie.
Come along with me.
With a fresh rutabaga pulled right off the tree.
Do the rutabaga boogie.
Do it all the time.
With a fresh rutabaga pulled right off the vine.