The Care and Feeding of Rutabagas

Updated on December 16, 2018
Rupert Taylor profile image

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Rutabagas don’t get very good media coverage. They are seen as dull-tasting and dull-witted and not to be tolerated on the sophisticated tables of the upwardly mobile. The true gourmet sees it as a peasant food best served with boiled mutton. Or, even better, not served at all.

Source

From Whence Commeth the Rutabaga?

Apparently, at some point in the 17th century, the wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea) and the turnip (Brassica rapa) got jiggy somewhere in Bohemia. One suspects the presence of large quantities of slivovitz, because the result of this happy union was the rutabaga.

The origin is not reflected in the many other names the rutabaga answers to: Canadian turnip, yellow turnip, Russian turnip, winter turnip, but, strangely not the Bohemian turnip. Perhaps, the coupling of two vegetables has been deemed a bit damaging to the image of Bohemia and the citizens have thrown a blanket of secrecy over the entire sordid business. Perhaps, those Moravian veggies might get up to cross-species shenanigans but not Bohemians.

Early on, farmers noticed that rutabagas made excellent feed for cattle; it’s a pity humans didn’t just leave it at that.

Here comes lunch.
Here comes lunch. | Source

Growing Rutabaga

The rutabaga is a simple critter; it requires only soil, water, and a bit of compost. It thrives in cool weather. It probably responds well to being spoken to softly. And, a tune wouldn’t go amiss. The veggies might be homesick for (adopt central European accent) “Old Country” so a suitable melody might be Bohemian Rhapsody.

Singing and talking to veggies are, perhaps, best done under cover of darkness. You know. Neighbours. Men in white coats.

Rutabagas, as with certain writers, need frequent liquid refreshment. Writers like to be hydrated by the application of fermented malt beverages, rutabagas prefer water. Deep research reveals there is an old adage that applies “If in doubt, water.”

Some creepy crawlies seem to like the leaves of the plant; the list, according to bonnieplants.com includes “slugs, aphids, cutworms, looper caterpillars, and flea beetles.” Hand-to-bug combat will get rid of these pests; if you are squeamish about squishing wear gloves.

However, these beasties won’t affect the business end of the rutabaga, which is partly underground. So, watch out for clubroot. Sounds horrible and can stay in the soil for 20 years. It seems clubroot is a formidable enemy. It’s probably best to employ a dignified retreat and plant painted-leaf begonias instead.

Bonnieplants also adds that “It’s also a good idea to provide rutabaga plants with a steady source of nutrition throughout the growing season.” Well-rotted manure can’t be beaten; “I love the smell of cow poo in the morning.”

Aroma therapy for rutabagas.
Aroma therapy for rutabagas. | Source

Uses for Rutabagas

The first thing that comes to mind is doorstop. You might want to shave a bit off one side or the thing might roll away and damage Granny’s swollen and compression-encased ankles.

Nine-pin bowling seems a useful application. Of course, you’ll need finger and thumb holes; I’m going to suggest fifteen-sixteenths of an inch in size. This is where we come into contact with Taylor’s Fix-it Law (TFL).

Simply stated, TFL postulates that no matter what the project you do not own the correct tool to complete it.

The corollary to TFL states that neither does the hardware store.

The commentary to TFL says Taylor is an optimist.

It’s also possible, but not advisable, for people to use rutabagas as a food source.

From Field to Table

Rutabaga, or swede as it’s known in Britain, was a standard menu item at the school the writer attended.

It was the 1950s, when British cooking (it never achieved the status of cuisine) involved boiling everything into submission and, when it had given up all its nutrition to the water, to boil it for a couple of hours more. If this is done to swede, and it was so done at least three times a week, it gives off an acrid pungency that catches at the back of the throat. The flavour was abominable.

However, the fibre was intended to keep us regular based on the theory that a boy with healthy bowels is a boy with a healthy mind; an assertion that is not supported by the medical literature.

Source

The Smithsonian Magazine offers “Five Ways to Eat Rutabaga.” Only five? The less authoritative Food Facts comes up with “rutabagas can be roasted, sautéed, baked, fried, boiled, mashed, and added to soups and stews. They also can be eaten raw as a snack or grated into salads or coleslaw.”

Cleverly, Americans have mostly avoided the root vegetable; on average they consume about one pound each a year, which seems a bit excessive.

Rutabaga Nutrition

Rutabagas are a good source of thiamine, vitamin A, vitamin B6, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and potassium. But, who cares? You’re not going to eat one.

The ketogenic diet seems to be a current fad. Keto fans go heavy on fat and low on carbohydrates. The lowly rutabaga plays a part in this. Even though it looks as though it should pack as much carb as a plate of pasta it doesn’t.

So, let’s check in with ketogasm.com, a website that proclaims “Keto for Badass Babestm.” Oh Dear. The enthusiastic Tasha Metcalf gushes that “When cooked … the rutabaga develops a savory, nutty, yet slightly sweet flavour … Rutabagas are low in calories, jam packed with vitamin C and have a total of seven net carbs per 100 grams. Not too shabby!”

To which the only reasonable response is “Pfft.” And, I mean it.

Source

Bonus Factoids

Some people are more susceptible to bitter flavours than others. Current Biology tells us with impressive clarity that “Among cruciferous vegetables the ratios of bitterness ratings between homozygous PAV and AVI subjects were greatest for rutabaga and turnip, and smallest for cabbage, which suggests that rutabaga and turnip contain the most specific ligands for the PAV-hTAS2R38 receptor.” Got it?

The townsfolk of Cumberland, Wisconsin have an annual Rutabaga Festival. The 2018 version featured several bands, a hockey tournament, tractor pulls, bean bag contest, hot pepper eating competition, the Cumberland Wrestling Association pancake breakfast, a charity run, and some theatre. Almost entirely absent from the festivities was anything to do with rutabagas. Hmm.

The Irish developed a sensible use for rutabagas. Hollowed out, they were used as Jack-O-Lanterns on Halloween. Come November 1st they could be fed to the pigs.

A suitably sinister-looking Irish Jack-O-Lantern.
A suitably sinister-looking Irish Jack-O-Lantern. | Source

Dedicated to Fatfreddyscat who inspired this piece.

Sources

  • “Growing Rutabagas.” Bonnieplants.com, undated.
  • “Five Ways to Eat Rutabaga.” Lisa Bramen, Smithsonian Magazine, December 3, 2009.
  • “How to Cook Rutabaga.” Food Facts, November 9, 2016.
  • “Getting to the Root of Things. The Rutabaga: Its History, Uses, and Culture.” Melody Rose, Dave’s Garden, November 9, 2009.
  • “Rutabaga – Low Carb Vegetable Spotlight.” Tasha Metcalf, ketogasm,com, undated.
  • “Variability in a Taste-Receptor Gene Determines Whether We Taste Toxins in Food.” Mari A. Sandell and Paul A.S. Breslin, Current Biology, September 19, 2006.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Rupert Taylor

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      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        CONGRATULATIONS on winning the Hubbie Award for this article, so informational and entertaining. Good Read and Deserving!

      • Rupert Taylor profile imageAUTHOR

        Rupert Taylor 

        3 weeks ago from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

        Frances I see what you did there. Wish I'd thought of it and added it to the article.

      • profile image

        Frances Metcalfe 

        3 weeks ago

        Rutabagas are the root of all evil, as the saying goes. Being a good girl, I have always steered clear of them.

      • Robert Sacchi profile image

        Robert Sacchi 

        3 weeks ago

        An informative and amusing look at a vegetable with a funny sounding name. The Bohemian Rhapsody video is a nice touch, it always is.

      • profile image

        femi 

        3 weeks ago

        .....and i was just going to write a piece on rutabaga on my site agricfarming ! Hopefully my next articles on hubpages would apeal to my humorous side. Lovely article.

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

        Patty Inglish MS 

        3 weeks ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

        This is a wonderfully entertaining article!

        The less authoritative "Food Facts" listing of rutabaga prep methods reminds me of a scene from Forrest Gump listing shrimp prep options. Now, we simply must have a Bubba-Gump Rutabaga outlet soon!

      • Rupert Taylor profile imageAUTHOR

        Rupert Taylor 

        3 weeks ago from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

        Thanks everybody. But Debra don't do it. Just don't. Eating rutabaga should only be on your bucket list if you are livestock.

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        3 weeks ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        Rupert!! Of course you deserved this award.....Congratulations.

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        3 weeks ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        Congratulations Keith! You definitely have made me laugh!! Have a nice Thanksgiving. I'm positive you won't be having SPAM!!

      • Leann Zarah profile image

        Leann Zarah 

        3 weeks ago

        Congrats, Mr. Taylor. Carry on.

      • FatFreddysCat profile image

        Keith Abt 

        3 weeks ago from The Garden State

        Put on your hat and your award-show suit! Rutabagas, rutabagas, root root root!

      • Deb Vesco Roberts profile image

        Debra Roberts 

        3 weeks ago from Ohio

        Now I need to go eat a rutabaga! This is awesome! Congrats on your award!

      • Rupert Taylor profile imageAUTHOR

        Rupert Taylor 

        3 weeks ago from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

        Thanks Shauna.

        I wouldn’t start eating rutabagas now; they don’t fit my image of Florida. I think lettuce is more appropriate for the climate. Rutabagas are a stodgy food that keeps out the cold. Personally, I would rather shiver.

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        3 weeks ago from Central Florida

        Excellent article. I love your humor! I've never had a rutabaga. After reading this, I'm sure I won't venture down that avenue anytime soon.

        Congratulations on winning the 2018 Best All-Around Article, Rupert. I'll have to check out more of your work. I like your style!

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        6 weeks ago from UK

        This makes for an interesting read. Best of luck with the hub competition.

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        6 weeks ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        Rupert.....Very funny, clever....and I have no problem believing Keith put you up to this! No doubt I too will be voting this for Best Hub. How could I not??! Totally enjoyable! (your article, NOT rutabagas!)

      • lobobrandon profile image

        Brandon Lobo 

        6 weeks ago

        That's great. Yeah, I learned to sew when I was younger too. Most people my age can't even thread a needle. You had a wise teacher.

      • Rupert Taylor profile imageAUTHOR

        Rupert Taylor 

        6 weeks ago from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

        Thanks lobobrandon. My example of sewing was a stuffed fox wearing blue jodhpurs. It was created at school under the tutelage of a forward-thinking woman who taught the all-boys school intake class of eight-year-olds. She thought boys ought to learn sewing skills, and almost seven decades later I can still sew on buttons and do other simple needle tasks.

      • lobobrandon profile image

        Brandon Lobo 

        6 weeks ago

        I've already put this one on the list for best hub too. I hope you win :) What was this "example" that you sewed?

      • Rupert Taylor profile imageAUTHOR

        Rupert Taylor 

        6 weeks ago from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

        Bev - Please don't feel you have to hold back in recommending the piece for a Best Hub. I really covet that water bottle with the HP logo on it. It will go well in my trophy case along with the cuff links I won as the best actor of 1974 bestowed by the Central Ontario Drama League and the Women's Own certificate for the best example of sewing at the Castle Bytham, Lincolnshire village fete of 1951. The descendants will be able to worship at this shrine.

      • Miebakagh57 profile image

        Miebakagh Fiberesima 

        6 weeks ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

        Hey, Rupert,I appreciated your comments. Thank you, and have a wonderful day.

      • Rupert Taylor profile imageAUTHOR

        Rupert Taylor 

        6 weeks ago from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

        Thanks folks all around, but Keith it's far from a "mighty" veggie. It's horrible and should never be foisted upon innocent folk.

      • theraggededge profile image

        Bev G 

        6 weeks ago from Wales, UK

        I really wish I'd written this. As Brandon says, it's a masterpiece. Yummy. I might have to submit it for Best Hub.

      • lobobrandon profile image

        Brandon Lobo 

        6 weeks ago

        This was an enlightening and fun read. It's a masterpiece which hopefully doesn't go unrecognised.

      • Miebakagh57 profile image

        Miebakagh Fiberesima 

        6 weeks ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

        Hello, Rupert, this is something new to me, but I have to increase my knowledge bank. Thanks for sharing.

      • FatFreddysCat profile image

        Keith Abt 

        6 weeks ago from The Garden State

        Thank you so much, sir, for this enlightening study. You have done the world a great service with your labor. Hail the mighty Rutabaga.

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