Guest Post by Ellen H. Ward of FoxTale Book Shoppe
Except for the tray of broccoli plants that he presented on the occasion of our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, my husband’s food oriented gifts have always been welcome. That time, I burst into tears, swayed by the Hallmark-induced anticipation of diamonds, roses, chocolates—anything but a messy flat of vegetable matter that didn’t have the decency to come bedecked in heart-printed wrapping paper. How very shallow of me, I think now, thirty-odd years later. While Kevin—a quick study, let it be said—succumbed to the conventional trappings of future holiday gift giving, his heart has always joined mine in its fascination with fruits and vegetables. It is one of our major love languages.
In the early years we had a vegetable garden the size of a slender oriental rug tucked between our bedroom and the neighbor’s driveway. It required diligent protection from marauding children and errant soccer balls, but we were rewarded with a wealth of produce: tomatoes, snow peas, squash, and yes, the reluctantly planted broccoli.
After the birth of our first child, Kevin brought in fresh garden cucumbers, peeled them with a pocketknife and fed them—lightly salted—to me as I lay perched in my hospital bed. I was queen of the maternity ward, revered, privy to modest yet succulent dishes. That started a tradition that continues to this day. Kevin always presents me with the ceremonial firsts: new asparagus shoots, a handful of green beans, a succulent brown fig, a half dozen blueberries in a paper towel—and I’ll prepare them (if need be)for our mutual sharing. My grandmother used to combine the first veggie stragglers into soup, but that’s not our ritual. Even knowing how inundated I will soon be with yellow squash (prepared fifty ways to Sunday) does not diminish the pure unadulterated enjoyment of sharing that first deliciously seasoned, lightly buttered crookneck with my husband.
And while Kevin can be hard to motivate in other areas (he resorted to a promissory note to clean half of the garage for my birthday a few years back,) my husband is at my beck and call in all areas that concern food. “Let there be vegetables,” I said to him on New Year’s morning while the rain poured in sheets and even the dogs wouldn’t leave the front porch. He promptly waded ankle-deep in mud to pick two beautiful heads of cabbage and to cut clusters of brussel sprouts from their stalks, filling a grocery bag and transforming our holiday meal. Kevin delights in additions to our large garden (now covering the total square footage of the house we live in), particularly when he can plant something new and surprise me with it. I only have to mention, “What do you think about beets this year?” and off he’ll go in search of the tiny seeds that will give us a new dish to experiment with, a palatable addition to our culinary repertoire. Then, weeks later: “Get in the truck; I have something to show you,” he’ll say, and together we’ll admire the buzz of activity surrounding the purple hull peas, the rows of Silver Queen shushing in the breeze, the shiny eggplant that matches the vibrant purple of a pansy, and there—the greenery atop a new crop of beets.
It came as no surprise recently when Kevin appeared at my bedside bearing an early morning gift, a turnip the size of a cantaloupe. “With God as my witness, we’ll never go hungry again,” I quipped. It was true: a family of four could easily be fed with one turnip this size, and there were twenty more, with greens, begging for attention in a large bucket in the kitchen. I’d never really eaten turnips, much less cooked them, but a little research soon brought me up to speed with a variety of recipes.
After triple washing the leaves and seasoning them with salt and pepper, I simmered the greens with a handful of cayenne peppers and—in the spirit of full disclosure— a half dozen slices of bacon for flavor. Yikes! So, sue me, veggie purists! Vegetable broth can be substituted for the pork, or just amp up the seasoning. The goal is to coax a lot of flavor slowly from these nutritious greens. After they were tender, I tossed them with a little vinegar, a teaspoon of sugar, and re-seasoned until they were just right. I like my green s with some of the cooking broth or “pot liquor” as it’s called in the South. Add to that some fresh cornbread (we grow and dry field corn and make cornmeal in the grain mill,) and you’ve got a highly nutritious meal that will not leave you feeling stuffed. Turnip greens are rich in magnesium, potassium, riboflavin and are a very good source of dietary fiber, protein and vitamins A, C, E, and K. They are in low in cholesterol, but high in folate, calcium and iron. Who would guess that what starts out looking like kudzu’s spiny cousin would end up being a meal fit for a king?
The turnip roots are high in vitamin C and can be used any way you’d normally use potatoes: mashed, in a soufflé, layered with other vegetables, fried in small cakes. I like them roasted with other root vegetables—onions, carrots, fingerling potatoes. Cut everything into small chunks and toss with equal parts olive oil and honey. Season and roast—simple and so delicious.
As for whether to peel turnips, I vote yes, as the skin can be tough and bitter. Like rutabaga, the turnip contains bitter cyanoglucosides that release small amounts of cyanide. Sensitivity to their bitterness is controlled by a paired gene, so people who have inherited two copies of the “sensitive” gene may find turnips intolerably bitter. Truth, if Wikipedia is to be believed!
My favorite recipe for using turnip roots is this:
- 4 large turnips
- 2 small onions or leeks
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil or butter
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1/4 to 1 cup heavy cream
- Turnip greens or parsley as optional garnish
- Peel the turnips, chop them into small chunks, and set them aside.
- Peel and finely chop onions. Set aside
- Clean and finely chop leeks. Set aside.
- Chop garlic. Set aside.
- Heat the oil or butter in a medium pot over medium high heat.
- Add the onions or leeks to the oil, sprinkle with salt, and cook, stirring[br] occasionally, until onions are soft, about 3 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the turnips and broth. Bring everything to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer and cook until the turnips are very tender, about 10 minutes.
- In a blender, whirl the soup until very smooth, at least 2 minutes per batch. [br](Tip: Cover lid of blender with a kitchen towel to prevent burns.)
- Return the soup to pot and add the cream. Adding just 1/4 cup will smooth out the edges of the soup; the more you add the thicker and more luxurious the soup will become.
- Salt to taste.
- Garnish with shreds of thinly cut turnip greens or parsley, if you like. Serve the soup hot.
223 jars of grape jelly, 665 pounds of purple hull peas and 5438 ears of corn later, Kevin and I have covered a lot of ground since that first tray of broccoli plants; but the man still speaks to me in my favorite love language. Is it the recipe for a perfect marriage? Probably not. But I say this with pride: My True Love gave me a turnip.
Ellen Ward is one of the “foxes,” a.k.a. owners of FoxTale Book Shoppe in Historic Downtown Woodstock, Georgia. She’s also a published writer, reading enthusiast and sees to it that the locals are fed healthy doses of all genres of books and fascinating authors. If you’re early enough, you can stop by this indie book store and get a taste of whatever homemade goodies she’s cooked up from her bountiful garden along with a heapin’ helpin’ of wit and whimsy. If you’re out of town, stop by Facebook and “like” this lovely independent bookstore that has been thriving on love for five years now.
Thanks again, Ellen, for sharing your wonderful words during A Month of Veggie Love! ~Veggie Val
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