My first time to see a turnip seed in my hand I was a little boy living in rural Oklahoma. Down the road from the parsonage lived a man named Mr. Freeman. When it was too cold to fish for catfish any longer it was time to plant the turnips in the bed that held potatoes in the early parts of the year. Crawling on hands and knees in the cold, freshly tilled soil we helped plant each and every seed. The care given to each seed is something I still use to this day and I still leave a little room for the humble turnip.
Not the most popular of vegetables, the humble turnip is really one of the oldest and most interesting vegetables in history. Its roots are muddled in history with people claiming its origins in Asia, Africa, and Europe. We know it was well known in the ancient world but its popularity has risen and fallen. Used for army food by the Roman army at times and banned for anything but animal fodder in other times, this is not always a vegetable on anyone’s top ten list. But the funny thing is this wonderful vegetable is still here and still eaten today.
This wonderful veggie loves to dig into loose rich soil and can be planted twice a year in the deep South. On the whole, you plant in the early summer when the days are warm and longer if you want to eat the greens. If you are looking to eat the roots, then plant when it is too cold to fish for catfish, or, for most of us within six weeks of the first good frost. This will give you tender roots that will be ready to eat when ever you get the winter urge. In zone 6 or so north you can plant in the cool months about the time of the last frost. You need the cold time. The roots will not reach the size they can in the lower South but the green and roots will add wonderful flavor to your life.
So you grew them, now what? Well you have three choices –
- Eat the greens! Chop the greens up and boil in water with a little salt for 5-10 minutes. I serve it up with a little butter.
- Eat them raw! You can cut them up and peel them and eat them with dip when they are still young and tender. There are some out there that will eat them fresh like apples, but I have never tried it myself.
- Cook them! In soups or alone, boil them for how ever long you like. Really this is the big thing here. You have to try them like potatoes to see when they are to the crisp level you enjoy. You can also fry them up if you slice them really thin and fry in a little bit of oil and salt – in the same way you fry up summer squash.
So get out there and plant a little loved, ancient, healthy vegetable. You will be rewarded with a wonderful and healthy plant that will give back to you much more then it takes. Go out there and enjoy a turnip!
Image thanks to Big_Red