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/
Stone-age bread was a puny thing. Then again, the line between survival and starvation at that point was pretty feeble itself. Whatever happy accident brought it about, moistened grain on a hot rock that could provide a few days sustenance, it was a remarkably innovation. The oldest known record of such flatbread is found in pre-historic Ireland. Fortunately, news travels.
But bread alone? Probably not. On its own for to long, it goes stale. Bread appears to have social ambitions. For starters (pun intended), bread has a significant number of courting rituals: measuring, warming, kneading, rising, resting and punching down. And bread does not rise to the occasion without a partner. It is thought that the Egyptians are responsible for the marriage of dough and yeast.
Modern allusions to the basic-ness of bread in our culture are probably uncountable. In most cases, these references address the necessity of bread to life itself. Bread, in all its variations, is the most widely consumed food in the world. Cervantes, of Don Quixote fame, claimed that “All sorrows are less with bread.” With typical humor, Julia Child asked, “How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”
The very word bread is used to connote everything from basic nourishment to money. Breaking bread together is an inextricable social component of human interaction. Like family and friends, it is the stuff and staff of life. In 40 BC, the Imperial Roman Senate decreed that free bread would be distributed to the population, thereby inventing the dole. Those early Roman politians surely must have reminded the beneficiaries on which side it was buttered. A breadwinner puts it on the table and in the bank. Paired with salt, bread is the oldest housewarming gift. And while the term “white bread” is used convey the idea of blandness and homogeneity, half a loaf in your basket is better than none.
The Greek empire left many marks on Egypt among other places. Oddly enough, pyramid is a Greek word for cooked dough, which was baked in molds and stacked in the form of a pyramid. Pyramid builder bees were also paid in bread, the edible kind.
Early on, bread’s shape was a function of the pan or oven’s shape. As making and baking processes evolved, bakers became more playful, developing fanciful shapes. Planting rituals demanded bread in suggestive forms be buried in fields in hopes of blessings from capricious gods. Even today, one can find complex wedding breads thoughout the Mediterrean basin as symbols of prosperity and productivity. Eventually there were embellishments made, in shapes and flavors. Nuts and fruits were added and whimsy took it’s toll.
Just in time for Mardi Gras, Kay Carroll has provided a delicious new recipe for a Lousiana favortie, bread pudding. She used Wave Hill’s Cranberry Walnut bread and Brookside Farm’s maple syrup. I can personally attest to delectable results.
Whew! All that hustle and bustle is now officially over. Oh, there may be another box or two to be moved out of sight or a few seasonal serving platters yet to be stored away. But essentially the “’tis the season” is done. And some of us are happy to have it so. Recently there was an idea making its way around festive parties proposing that there should be a few more weeks between Thanksgiving and the annual solstice holidays. It was, after all, an arbitrarily chosen date, unless you believe that the merchants who needed an official start to gift buying convinced FDR to designate the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving. Think of how many home cooks and chief bottlewashers could benefit from a breathing space of a few more weeks in between the two holidays.
So now we ease into a time for a very different kind of indulgence. A time to either finish or begin that long-waiting project. A time in which whatever hours are required can be spent. A time in which the measured patience for jigsaw puzzles is a peaceful pat-on-the-back. A time for well-bundled winter walks. A time which features slow cooked stews, hot rich soups and long-roasted root vegetables for unhurried, deeply satisfying dinners produced without an excess of fuss or fanfare. Everyone hears much about lazy summer days, but I vote for a good fire, a great cat and an entertaining book in a gratefully uneventful post-holiday January.
To that end, we offer today a recipe that looks and tastes like it took quite a bit more effort, Ginger and Spice Chicken Thighs. It can be served over rice, quinoa, couscous, or even mashed turnips. Don’t forget to check the website for other recipes, there are dozens of soups, stews, braises and roasts that warm your winter fancies. Just enter the primary ingredient in the search box and choose what suits you best.