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Turnips have fed the world and have been around for centuries

Turnips have fed the world and have been around for centuries

A vegetable I do not see much information about are turnips. Turnip’s scientific name is Brassica rapa and are a biennial member of the mustard family. It bears bright yellow flowers which set seed in elongated pods their second year. At times though, if under stress, they may set seed the first year. Second year turnips are tough and woody and not edible. There are over 30 varieties of this white flesh taproot. The outside skin is white with a mantle of purple, red, or a greenish yellow color.

When small, turnips have a slightly sweet taste but as they age and become larger the taste becomes stronger with a coarser texture. The leaves of turnips may also be eaten. The peak season for this vegetable is from October to February.

Turnips can be prepared for eating in many different ways such as raw in salads, pickled, cooked, steamed, baked, mashed, or in soups or stews. It combines well with carrots, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, and apples.

When purchasing turnips look for ones less than 4-inches in diameter, heavy for their size, and crisp. Place them in a perforated bag in the refrigerator as they should not dry out or become moldy due to excess moisture They will keep in the refrigerator for quite awhile.

Turnips have an interesting history and are thought to come from eastern Asia. Like many of our foods, they were part of people’s diet before the 15th century B.C. In those early times when people went to plays or games and were disgusted by what they saw, items were thrown at the unpopular public figures. Turnips were among such foods.

Turnips are among the many various foods brought to North America by early explorers.

Even back in early times people had derogatory names for others. A “turnip eater” was a common name for an uncouth person. This vegetable has been a popular food in Great Britain and Northern Europe for centuries.

During World War I, due to the failed potato harvests, bread shortages and rationing, peoples diets consisted almost solely of turnips. World War II British citizens also had about the same situation.

In 1940 Lord Woolton, Francois Latry, was the Master Chef at London’s Savoy Hotel and was also the Ministry of Food. He invented a pie recipe which became very popular and was called: “Woolton’s Pie.” Onions were not originally included in the recipe in 1941 as the growers were under NAZI occupation. Brewer’s yeast extract, or Marmite, is also included in the recipe. Use it sparingly as it has a salty, meaty flavor.

The heaviest turnip on record was grown by Scott and Mardie Robb of Palmer, Alaska. At the state fair it weighed in at 39 pounds, 3 ounces. Turnips have also been grown for livestock feed.

Turnips are a cool weather plant and seeds should be sown 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost or late in the summer. They will mature in 40 to 60 days for best eating.

A worthy hobby for a worthy program

This does not pertain to food, but I found out about a program some knitters and crocheters may like to participate in as October was Cancer Month. The program is Knitted Knockers ( It is a program where volunteers knit or crochet special balls which are freely given to breast cancer survivors. Knitted Knockers are a special hand-made breast prostheses for women who have undergone mastectomies or other breast procedures. They are made in all sizes and colors. Neutral colors though are most requested, also pairs. All are sent free upon request, although donations are appreciated. I told a friend about it who had a double mastectomy. She ordered a pair and loved them.

The organization provides free patterns using double pointed knitting needles, also in crochet, using an approved yarn that is also sold in local yarn stores and Walmart. There are various groups within your state.

Something to think about: “A turnip is a capricious vegetable, which seems reluctant to show itself at its best.” - Waverly Root


Wash, peel and quarter X amount of turnips. Place on a flat pan and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and rosemary leaves. Bake in a 375 F. oven for 30 minutes. Toss with a spatula every 10 minutes to brown.


(War time pastry dish of vegetables when rationing and shortages made other dishes hard to prepare)

1 lb. Cauliflower

1 lb. Parsnips

1 lb. Carrots

1 lb. Potatoes

(chopped onions if used)

2 teaspoons Marmite

1 Tablespoon rolled oats

Salt and pepper when vegetables are cooked

Parsley, fresh or dried

For the pastry:

8 ounces (1 cup) whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Couple large pinches salt

3/4 cups margarine or lard

1/2 cup mashed potatoes

Dash of water, if needed

Chop the vegetables into chunks with those that take longer to cook in smaller pieces. Place in a pot and bring to a simmer with just enough water to reach 3/4 of the way up the vegetables in the pot. Add the (Brewers Yeast) and rolled oats, salt and pepper and cook until tender and most of the water has been absorbed.

Place the mixture in a deep pie dish and sprinkle with parsley and mix in.

Make the pastry by mixing the flour, baking powder and salt. Rub in the margarine/lard. Mix the mashed potatoes in to form a dough and knead. Add a little water if too dry. Roll out to form the pie crust and place on top of the pie dish. Decorate. Brush top with milk. Place into a 400 F. oven for 30 minutes or until top is browned.


5 cups grated turnips

2 cups finely grated carrots

1/2 cup minced red onions,

1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

1/4 cup olive oil,

3 Tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Toss grated turnips with 2 finely grated carrots, minced red onions, and minced fresh parsley. Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, and sugar, with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Refrigerate at least one hour. Mix again to serve.

The Prairie Star Weekly Update

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