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The Care and Feeding of Rutabagas

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

Rutabagas are not quite as glamorous as some of their root vegetable cousins, such as carrots and potatoes.

Rutabagas are not quite as glamorous as some of their root vegetable cousins, such as carrots and potatoes.

The Humble Rutabaga

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.

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 procreative 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.

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 is, 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 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.

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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.

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, 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.

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 2021 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.
  • One of my favourite condiments is Branston Pickle, which I have consumed since I was a toddler without ever looking at the list of ingredients. I corrected that omission recently and was horrified to discover a main ingredient of the chutney is rutabaga.
  • 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.

Dedicated to Fatfreddyscat Who Inspired This Piece of Nonsense.


  • “Growing Rutabagas.”, 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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Rupert Taylor


Desmond Goitsemang from selebi phikwe Botswana on June 08, 2019:

wow, thats a good one my dear. i like the grammar.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on February 19, 2019:

Hey, Hari, do you plan to include the rutabagas on your dinner? I have looked up to Wiki and found that it can be palatable. But it is a food mostly for European prisoners of war or slaves! Many thanks for weighing in and commenting. You are welcomed.

Hari Prasad S from Bangalore on February 19, 2019:

Very interesting article. Thanks for writing and putting a new vegitable on the table. :-)

- Hari

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 24, 2018:

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

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on November 23, 2018:

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

Frances Metcalfe on November 23, 2018:

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

Robert Sacchi on November 22, 2018:

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

femi on November 22, 2018:

.....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 from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 21, 2018:

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 (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on November 21, 2018:

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

Suzie from Carson City on November 21, 2018:

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

Suzie from Carson City on November 21, 2018:

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

Leann Zarah on November 21, 2018:

Congrats, Mr. Taylor. Carry on.

Keith Abt from The Garden State on November 21, 2018:

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

Debra Roberts from Ohio on November 21, 2018:

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

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on November 21, 2018:

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.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on November 21, 2018:

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!

Liz Westwood from UK on November 02, 2018:

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

Suzie from Carson City on November 01, 2018:

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!)

Brandon Lobo on November 01, 2018:

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 (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on November 01, 2018:

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.

Brandon Lobo on November 01, 2018:

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 (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on November 01, 2018:

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.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 31, 2018:

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

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on October 31, 2018:

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

Bev G from Wales, UK on October 31, 2018:

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

Brandon Lobo on October 31, 2018:

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

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 31, 2018:

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

Keith Abt from The Garden State on October 31, 2018:

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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