I do not plan to leave the house for the next month except to go to work (yay for being an essential worker) and stocked up on things that would last a while in my refrigerator and pantry before my exile. As a result, I am making yet another post on an obscure root vegetable, the turnip.
Part of the reason for this blog is to try new foods in addition to learning to cook and learning about culinary history. I’m a Southerner and have eaten plenty of turnip greens in my life but never once have eaten a turnip. My only experience with them at all was reading Meet Molly, the first book about my favorite American Girl, when I was 9 years old. The book was set in 1944 and Molly had to eat turnips our of her victory garden, describing them as tasting like “moldy brains” that were cold and oozing water. Mmm!
(My husband essentially said the same thing when asked if he had ever eaten turnips, saying with a grimace that they have and “earthy taste” that’s watery and fibrous. Mmm!)
I found a recipe in Jules Harder’s 1885 book A Physiology of Taste: Harder’s Book of Practical American Cookery (In Six Volumes) Volume I-Treating of American Vegetables, and All Alimentary Plants, Root and Seeds. That’s the actual title.
I like this guy’s style.
Harder was the first chef at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco and seemed to have no lack of confidence. He writes in the preface to this book that:
“Many a dish is cooked that is not worth the time and trouble…and many a book written-especially on the subject of Cookery-the reading of which is worse than the time wasted.”The Physiology of Taste-Harder’s Book of Practical American Cookery Volume I
He proclaims himself an expert because of his lifetime if study and says that he plans to write an entire series of 6 books, each of which focuses on a different food group. He only finished this one, and I don’t blame him for not wanting to finish the rest of the series. This book itself is an exhaustive reference over 430 pages long with descriptions of and recipes for almost any plant that can be eaten. I had not even heard of some of these plants before skimming this book. Hmm…perhaps more root vegetable cooking awaits me!
I selected his recipe for glazed turnips. The recipe is as follows:
Pare one dozen Turnips and cut in in four or six pieces, according to their size. Trim them in a clove-like shape, and parboil them for five minutes. Be careful not to let them get too brown in color. Then drain them and put in a small saucepan. Moisten them with broth and add a piece of butter, a pinch of sugar, and a a little salt. Cook them on a brisk fire, and when the broth is reduced and the Turnips nicely glazed, dish them up without breaking them. Serve them with a Butter, Cream, or Allemande sauce, with a boiled leg of mutton or any meat where a white vegetable garniture is required.
The first step is to wash and peel the turnips. I thought this would be difficult but was much easier than expected.
Next, cut the turnips into pieces and “trim them into a clove-like shape” according to the instructions. We had no idea what this meant. Clover shape? Quatrefoil? In the end, it didn’t matter because the turnips were so freaking dense there was no way these were being shaped into anything but round for the time being.
I imagined one of us slicing a finger off as we tried to cut these and ending up in the emergency room during the middle of a pandemic. I can’t imagine our explanation…”Oh, we were just preparing glazed turnips for a post for an obscure food blog that no one will see based on a recipe from some guy named Harder who wrote a book in 1885…” Thankfully, no one was maimed in the slicing of the turnips.
Next, parboil the turnips (parboil means to partially cook, usually by boiling, which I did not know until today).
Following the parboil process, remove the turnips and drain them.
Just for kicks, we decided to see if we could cut the turnips into different shapes after we parboiled them. We looked for cookie cutters and only found the Christmas ones, so we ended up with turnips in the shapes of Christmas trees, snowflakes, stockings, snowmen, and stars. This was actually really fun.
Finally, place the turnips into a pan and add broth (we added beef broth), salt, and sugar (we did brown sugar to compliment the beef broth).
Finally, let the turnips simmer until the broth reduces and the turnips are glazed.
Overall, these were very good. They had a flavor like a dense squash and the sugar glazing and beef broth made them much more palatable. I had expected them to be oozing water and falling apart but they held their shapes very well, even after we cut them into Christmas shapes! Perhaps we could use these as a garniture on a holiday meal in the future (or perhaps not).
Time Travel Experience: It was personally a trip back to when I was 9 years old because I remembered reading about turnips in my American Girl book about Molly McIntire. When I think of turnips, I think about cooking during harder times because they are hardy vegetables that store easily and last a long time. I liked researching Jules Harder and wish I could learn more about his background…he seems like quite a character based on his writing.
Overall Experience: I think I can GUARANTEE that we are the only people that I know that have ever made Christmas tree turnips, perhaps in the history of northeast Georgia. I ask my husband sometimes if I embarrass him because I don’t think any of the wives of his friends are doing weirdo things like glazing turnips for supper. I get a lot of strange looks at our local Ingles grocery store buying things like turnips and celeriac, but whatever. I think this is much cooler than having the same old food every night. I’m glad that we got to try something new that definitely was much better and healthier than expected.