Turn to kale for a great side dish
Homegrown kale has been spotted at a farmers market in Oxford. They’re actually hard to miss – big shiny white balls with dense green leaves.
Turnips are perhaps the most harmful vegetable these days, and have been despised throughout history. “Turnip” has been synonymous with something of little value for nearly a thousand years.
The aristocrats of ancient Rome considered turnips a food reserved for the poor. In the American colonies, turnips—particularly greens—became associated with the diet of slaves.
Our tradition of pumpkin carving can be traced back to Ireland, where scary faces were carved into turnips to ward off evil spirits. In England, the Turnip Prize is given annually to the worst example of modern art. The first prize is a turnip mounted on a block of wood.
The French word for “turnip” (navet) is currently reserved for a special purpose. When leaving a cinema in France, if someone hates a movie, they say, “It’s a turnip.”
Food historian Bill Price says the kale is “an ugly, slandered ancient thing,” but it “changed the course of history.” In the 14th century, farmers in Belgium began alternating between growing cereal crops and rapes.
Grains and turnips have depleted different nutrients from the soil and recovered different ones. To maintain soil productivity, farmers once had to leave their land fallow for some years.
Through crop rotation, farmland can be productive every year. More food was grown, more people could be fed.
Turnips were eventually moved to a new and more important role as feed for increasing numbers of animals. Turnips are a particularly important food because all of them – root, stem and leaves – are edible, unlike tomatoes and rhubarb, which have poisonous leaves.
The New York Times offers 217 kale recipes on its website, most of them for soup. Melissa Clark, the Times food writer, wrote nice things about kale (“sweet and juicy, crunchy and taut”), even though that was 10 years ago.
We prefer uncooked kale, it’s the best way to enjoy the nice things Melissa Clark wrote about. We peel the turnips, cut them into slices, and dip the pieces in the mayonnaise-mustard sauce.
Turnips can be cooked and mashed like potatoes. In fact, the vegetables can be cooked and mashed together.
Peel a large turnip and a large potato and cut them into several pieces. Place it in a bowl, cover it with water, bring it to a boil, and leave it on low heat for half an hour. Drain, add one stick of butter and a quarter cup of milk or cream, mash and season with pepper and paprika.
The leaves can be cooked like other vegetables, such as chard, but we find them bitter. Something sweet is needed to soothe the bitterness.
Kale stores very well, so buy some and keep it in the refrigerator over the winter. With the growing season over for most of our local produce, the availability of local kale should be a source of praise, not scorn.
MOON Co-op is a consumer-owned, full-service grocery in Oxford, featuring natural, local, organic, sustainable and earth-friendly products. The store, located at 516 S. Locust St. In Oxford, it is open to the public every day. Watch it online at com.mooncoop.coop.