Hard to image that this glowingly radiant root is born underground. It ought to be part of some ancient myth about lighting the underworld. Maybe it could have cheered Persephone up if her mother had slipped one into her tunic pocket during the winter months when she was required to remain in the underworld with her abducting husband, Hades.
As a food source, the turnip is actually older than agriculture itself, eaten by prehistoric man as a staple. It is so old that no one is convinced of its origins. It was popular during both the Greek and Roman empires. Then, some Roman forum orators and politicians became so outrageous that the populace began to use turnips to throw at those who were particularly egregious. Turnips are a lot harder than tomatoes, if less messy.
Shortly after that the turnip inexplicably lost its sway on the dinner table. Perhaps some of those pelted politicians banned them from their households and it became a trend. So the nutritious, delicious turnip was turned out. It fell into use as fodder for livestock, some of whom were let loose to harvest their own meals without the aid of human machinery. As someone once famously said, to everything there is a season. Apparently some hungry human had decided to try the turnip himself. And so the cycle begins again.
In recent times, and largely due to the taste, foresight and perseverance of Alice Waters, the turnip is now back in gourmet kitchens, adding a mild bit of spice. When harvested as baby veggies, they can make a plate brilliantly colorful as well as upping the flavor ante. For reasons that escape me, many recipes for turnips blend them with potatoes; unnecessarily dampening down an independently lovely taste. This week’s recipe is for a simple and wonderful Mashed Turnips, a side dish that goes very well with pork, lamb and duck. In a previous column we offered a delicious Creamy Turnip Soup from our Market Master, Kay Carroll that has turned out to be a perennial market tasting favorite. For that and other previously published turnip recipes, check out the market web site at http://www.litchfieldfarmersmarket.org/