Turn the Turnip to Good Account

by Jason Peters on June 22, 2010 · 9 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low,Region & Place


Rock Island, IL

The turnip (Brassica rapa), though round and firm and white and beautifully suited to the hand, is not one of the jewels in the crown of creation. On this point you can even get dimwits, halfwits, dipshits, and neocons to agree with you. Given the choice between turnips and new potatoes—especially at this time of year—most semi- to quasi-rational creatures will prefer new potatoes. I’ve even seen one of Patrick Deneen’s old girlfriends do it.

(Allowances must be made for shaved raw turnips added to salads and also for lightly salted raw thin turnip slices—both excellent so far as turnips go.)

I say nothing here of the turnip green, which is very good for you, as are almost all bitter and vile-tasting things the earth brings forth. Desperation may drive us to them, but for now I will maintain that God gave us the turnip green only to teach us how to shoot Groundhogs.

(How: in the country, with a .22. In the city, where the discharging of firearms is somewhat frowned upon (because illegal), with an air rifle amply loaded with field pellets, or with the back side of a shovel thunderously applied to the head—the Groundhog’s head. Be sure, however, whether in county or city, that the fat bastard garden thief you’ve just plugged (or bludgeoned) isn’t going to waddle off and die under a deck or a nearby shed or—God forbid!—the front porch. Putrefying flesh is unpleasant and puts one to thinking about such lethal combinations as bad hair and gubernatorial corruption, and at any rate you’ll never get to the carcass in time to make woodchuck stew, which is gamey, to be sure, but better than the NBA (Not Basketball Anymore) finals.

And yet the turnip itself can be turned to good account, as is suggested by the sheer proliferation of turnip recipes proffered by Turnip Loyalists, who are well-meaning individuals, if slightly north-northwest in their orientation.

Why bother turning the turnip to good account? Because it is important to eat in season.

Why? Because soon enough everyone (everyone who’s left) will have to eat in season.

Why? Because transporting food long distances is (in addition to being a mistake) a luxury of the age of cheap oil, which is all but over. So learn to localize and seasonalize. It can be done.

Now how to turn the turnip to good account. That’s the sticking point. I’m going to suggest a way. I hope that doing so—am I masking the desperation well enough?—will encourage others to part with their own successes with the turnip.

For the turnip, truth be told, though lovely, is like a student you don’t hold out much hope for but who somehow manages to turn himself to good account. (Himself? Am I a sexist turnip-fed pig? No! It is more often a he than a she whom you don’t hold out much hope for. Look for a future piece on The Average Undergraduate Male.)

Step One: Divert your attention from the fact that you’re trying to turn a turnip to good account. Diversion is key, like when a colleague starts talking in a committee meeting and, to make the trial bearable, you force yourself to think of something even more unpleasant, like chewing on tin foil or watching a Tom Cruise movie or reading Sylvia Plath.

So put on some contemporary “Christian” “music”—something by someone who was raised by wolves (I know—narrow it down, please!). Soon you’ll long for the end of the noise so that the chewing and swallowing may commence. Pour yourself a drink (never, except during liturgical fasts, deny yourself this), but make it unpleasant. Miller Lite will do if you can get your hands on some without actually having to part with money, gold, or favors, like loaning your pickup truck. A dirty vodka martini (an abomination to God the Father and blasphemy against the Holy Ghost) will also do.

Step Two: Instead of banishing the children to another room, lock them in the kitchen with you and let them fight like hell. The more children the better. If you don’t have very many, grab your espoused saint and run upstairs for a few minutes. You must lay up more screaming brats in store for turnip seasons to come.

Step Three: Bearing in mind the rule of simplicity (for you do have to eat this), melt some butter in a pan over low heat. If you think it will help, sing along with the Krustian “music.” You can rinse the bad theology from your mind with a requiem mass later.

Step Four: Slice your turnip(s) into thin disks. Salt one side and, when the butter is melted, place the disks, salted-side down, in the pan. Salt the unsalted sides and crack a little black pepper over them.

Step Five: Smile at the children when they say all the words you ordinarily forbid them to say. (As always, local rules obtain. For my part I expect to hear “shut-up,” “idiot,” “stupid,” and of course all the really bad ones. No problem!)

Step Six: Turn up the fire to “medium” and, when the turnips are a little soft (maybe after three or four minutes), flip them. Leave them for another three or four minutes and then remove them from the heat.

Step Seven (the final step: we’re working here with a biblical number for good luck): Dress the disks variously. Sprinkle oregano on some, rosemary on others, nutmeg on a few more, and, on the remaining turnip disks, mustard or local honey or soy sauce or—hell, I don’t know, make it a dash of—talcum powder.

What I’m saying is, we’re dealing here with an unpromising student. Try anything.

Now you’re ready to eat. The turnips will all taste pretty good, I promise, for butter and salt and pepper, all of which are magical, have touched them.

But as you can see the question is, what finishes them best? That’s where you have to get creative—and hope that the music and the beer haven’t destroyed your imagination, even though they have, without exception, successfully destroyed the imaginations of millions of Americans already.

Eat. Judge. Take notes. Imagine other possibilities. Apologize to no one. You’re eating locally and in season. You’re preparing for the real future, not the one colleges and universities and other advertising agencies are promising.

Now be good to yourself. Fast-forward to the clean-up. Put on Chicago XVI or XVII and pour yourself a really good Michigan IPA. I suggest (in order of increasing excellence) Mad Hatter, Crooked Tree , and High Seas.

Banish everyone from the kitchen, even your espoused saint, who is either pregnant or has done you the honors. Sing along loudly and take twice as much time as you normally would to clean up.

Prepare for several more days of turnips. They make for an incomparable stew, you know—provided you’ve put up enough stock.

But that, loyal reader (I use the singular with steely resolve), is grist for another mill.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar nancy June 23, 2010 at 7:29 pm

That second link was jez plain mean, but I’ll share this with you anyway. Turnip-Artichoke Slaw–Paper-thin slices of turnip and raw artichoke hearts, matchstick slices of tart-green apple, olive oil, lemon juice, and minced chives, parsley and thyme. Salt and pepper. It’s a beauty.

avatar Grace Potts June 23, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Well bless my bark, Professor Peters-

Have you really never indulged in a serving of turnip, mustard and collard greens braised in broth and ham hocks? Often, I’ve had it with chunks of peeled turnip tossed in at the last, to cook until just done through… sort of like a new potato, but it bites back a little.

And you’re really going to call out High Seas over Bell’s IPA? Guess it takes all kinds. BTW…if you’re ever in a tasting mood, I’d also add Lake Superior Brewing Co.’s IPA to your list.

peace and good eats- GP

avatar Cecelia June 23, 2010 at 10:01 pm

steamed (for hours) buttered (a lot) some chives to take a bit of the bite out, salt pepper – then mash em.

This is becoming one of my fav sites for recipes

avatar Marchmaine June 24, 2010 at 9:08 am

Good heavens man, why would you not plant a proper well mannered vegetable like parsnip?

avatar Shelley June 25, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Turnips taste yummy in beef stew–local, pasture-raised beef of course. You are right. We’d better start learning to eat our locally-grown, seasonal veggies whether we like them or not.

Still, the post made me laugh. I imagine it will take a fair amount of such ironic absurdity to season the bitter realities of the lower-energy world in our future.

And, yes, I agree with Marchmaine–parsnips are lovely!

avatar D.W. Sabin June 25, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Burroughs enjoyed donning his Woodchuck Fur Coat whilst entertaining the admiring coeds of Vassar from across the river…while his rather churlish wife smoldered in fury down the hill from Slabsides. He liked to hold forth in the patchwork fur whilst presenting the productive capacity of his Celery Patch which is now skunk cabbage and wooded swamp. Peters, you need a Woodchuck pelt smoking jacket with a custom secret pouch sized to fit a silver flask .

Patrick, that there girlfriend of yorn looks like she would be good at re-setting an engine block in the 47 Ford. Congratulations. Mullets and tanktops always have been one of my favorites. And they say “academics” are “elitists” ! Cads, one and all.

avatar Alethea June 25, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Will you write something about turnip greens and stinging nettles sometime? Nettles don’t even have to be purchased if you know where to find them.

avatar Roger S. June 28, 2010 at 8:35 am

BACON!!!!!!!!!!! Have you forgotten that with a bit of bacon or the grease thereof, all things, even straw, are fit to eat?

avatar dgh July 10, 2010 at 10:50 am

Of course, with the Thanksgiving turkey, turnips pureed or mashed (lots of butter) are much better than the white potato. But for summer consumption, this is smart.

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