It is unseasonably warm day in late February. It’s been a mild winter, but a long one: November brought bitter cold and snow typical of January, and while we haven’t had much in the way of snow or ice since the beginning of the year, it’s been a long, gray slog ever since. But today the sun is shining; there is the promise of the spring awakening to come. Naturally my mind turns, as it always does at this time of year, to the question:
What the f#&! am I going to do with all these turnips?
If you’ve known me, or my blog, long enough, you’ll know that I have a thing for vegetables. I have been a CSA subscriber for years and years. We subscribe year-round, which means I get to enjoy the weekly delight (and it is a delight!) of opening a new half-bushel box of produce every Wednesday, even in the dead of February.
The winter boxes come loaded with storage vegetables, those that were harvested in the fall and tucked away, Little House on the Prairie-style, to last through the cold winter months. Think about it: if you are a vegetable, and you want to make it through winter in a root cellar, you need to be TOUGH. Which, for a vegetable, means dense. In June, the box is loaded with lightweight leafy greens. But these winter boxes are weighty things, full of vegetables with which to hunker down.
And there are turnips, always turnips.
Now, you might look at the picture above and say, "that's not really so very many turnips." But you need to get a sense of the relative volume of these turnips, some of which are astoundingly large. Here is a representative turnip, pictured next to common household items.
Of course, particularly at this time of year, food blogs, newspapers and cooking magazines are inevitably awash with tributes to the Humble Turnip. So many things you can do with these babies! You can grate them into latkes! Mash them up with butter and cream! Bake them into a gratin with cheese and breadcrumbs! Simmer chunks of them in your favorite winter stew!
In other words, your turnips can pretend that they are potatoes.
Only problem is, turnips in my CSA box have competition from actual potatoes.
If turnips are pretty good at being potatoes, actual potatoes are even better at it.
Daikon radishes can pretend to be jicama.
Watermelon radishes can pretend to be watermelon!
But if you let them try, you will be sorely disappointed.
Celeriac can pretend to be celery.
Only uglier. And who likes celery, anyway?
Butternut squash is always welcome in my house, in any quantity.
Because butternut squash is really, REALLY good at being sweet potatoes.
There is one non-potato use for turnips, and that is pickling. Pickled turnips, with a bit of beet thrown in, are a fabulous middle eastern tradition. In the Boston area, you can find them in the Armenian groceries of Watertown. But if you have enough turnips sitting around, there’s no reason not to make your own.
After a few hours, they turn a gorgeous magenta.
After fermenting for a week, they become total flavor bombs – puckery and salty; like most pickles, a condiment, a garnish. You eat a few pieces at a sitting. They are at home on any middle eastern mezze platter. And I make mezze platters all the time! Maybe, every other month.
So if these pickles last for six weeks, what are the odds that most of them end up in the compost bin?
True, I could focus on middle eastern food for a month or so in order to use these babies up. But there are so many other cultures to appropriate! Besides, middle eastern cuisines don’t use many potatoes – the main overflow problem since I pickled all the turnips.
A pretty pink jar of pickled turnips does make a passable gift. I made two jars, and I gave one to my friends David and Diane, two of my very favorite humans. Besides, I happen to know that David and Diane compost; so their unused pickled turnips will meet an environmentally responsible end.
Pickling is in fact an excellent solution to most farmshare excess. Cabbage turns into sauerkraut. Pickled daikon radishes are a staple of Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines. I’m pretty sure you can even pickle butternut squash.
But I won’t. Because I really like sweet potatoes.