Growing up, I had Irish aunts who seemed to be from another time. They used words like “pocketbook”, “davenport”, and “icebox”. They still stocked white gloves in their drawers in case, I suppose, the trend for white gloves ever returned, and they cooked as if the depression was still on. I remember hearing the word “rutabaga” in their house for the first time. I think their kitchen was the only place I heard that word. I thought rutabaga must be some old-world food that they kept in their “root cellar”.
I have avoided rutabaga all this time.
What is a rutabaga, anyway?
Turns out rutabaga was the result of a liaison between a turnip and a cabbage at some point in the 17th Century — according to a very lovely entry in the University of Wisconsin Extension’s Alternative Field Crops Manual. Maligned for the first part of the 20th century for being a bit too difficult to grow, the root vegetable enjoyed a renaissance in the 1970s, and can now be found on grocery store shelves.
It’s one of those unsightly, often misshapen vegetables that makes you either feel a bit sorry for it, or spurs you to believe perhaps there’s something really great inside that dirty exterior. So today, I picked up some rutabaga at the Green City Market and decided to give it a try.
Most recipes seem to suggest mixing rutabaga with its earthy companions — carrots, parsnips, turnips — for a hash, but I wasn’t in the mood for too much frying. Instead, I diced and boiled the rutabaga, then mixed it with some caramelized onion and honey.
Rutabaga’s got an earthy, interesting taste. “savory” was my husband’s word for it. I’d serve it as a side to a real juicy pork chop, or with stew — something that could really stand up to the texture and flavor of the rutabaga.
In all, as part of an “eat more vegetables” campaign, I’d say the rutabaga has got a place at our table for a change of pace every once in a while. And making it today gave me a chance to think of my aunts cuisine — so Irish with their cottage hams and cabbage. The simple meals they made for us came directly from the heart. As my dear old aunts would say, “Oh, heavens to Betsy, I haven’t had a rutabaga in ages!”