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Turnips

Brassica rapa


Photo courtesy of Horticulture New Zealand

Description

Turnip is most commonly recognisable as swede, but there are also several other varieties available, such as the long, white Asian turnip.

Both the leaves and the root can be eaten; turnip has a strong, quite peppery flavour that becomes milder after cooking, but flavours vary depending on the type of turnip.

Turnips are an excellent source of vitamin C. As well, they’ll give you fibre, phosphorus, vitamin B6, and calcium. The greens are even better – they’re very high in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as folate and other trace minerals.

Choose turnips as you would swede – it should be heavy for its size without blemishes. Wrinkles around the top are normal, however. As with many vegetables, smaller turnips tend to have a sweeter, milder flavour.

To store, take off the leaves if they’re still attached and store in the fridge. Baby turnips should be used within a day or two, while larger turnips will keep for a week or two.

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History

Turnips are a vegetable with a long history of cultivation. Originating in Europe around 2000BC, it was a staple crop for the Romans, and was particularly praised by Pliny the Elder for being a good source of food for both animals and people.

For a long time they were seen as a poor person’s food in many countries; in Britain they were primarily seen as animal feed, where they still suffer from this image problem. They’re still popular on the Continent, though their popularity declined following the introduction of the potato.

They arrived in North America through European settlers, growing especially well in the South. Turnips still feature in African-American cuisine, especially turnip greens, as legend has it that slaveowners would keep the turnip roots and leave the slaves with the greens.

Uses

Turnip can be used anywhere you’d use potatoes. Young turnips can be eaten raw, while older, larger turnips are best cooked. Peel away the outer, fibrous layer, cut into chunks and boil for 20-30 minutes. From there you can eat them as they are, perhaps with some butter and chopped parsley, or mash them into potatoes.

Facts

In Scotland at Halloween, it’s traditional to hollow out and carve swede or turnip. Carving pumpkin is an American custom which originates from Scotland, but using a native vegetable.



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