It is mid-February in Boston, and by now we have had all that we can handle. It is endless, this onslaught of whiteness, pile on top of pile. We didn't mind at first; it's what we expect in winter in New England. But we no longer have any idea what to do with all of it. We have no place to put it. We've run out of room, out of ideas, out of patience.
I am writing, of course, about turnips.
I subscribe to a year-round farm share, which I absolutely adore. The arrival of the Siena Farms box is a high point of my week. The most recent one, delivered between blizzards, may have been the best winter box yet. There were Chiogga beets, with their lovey candy stripes; daikon radishes; sweet potatoes. Oh -- and look -- parsnips! I love parsnips!
Carrots -- loads of them! Crunchy, sweet, endlessly versatiie Bolero carrots -- they seem to get sweeter the longer winter rolls on.
Not one, but TWO butternut squashes -- an absolute favorite!
Oh...and at the bottom of the box.....turnips. More turnips. To add to the very full drawer full of turnips already languishing in my fridge.
I have been eating turnips every day for months. I dice them raw and toss them into salads; I snack on turnip wedges dipped in hummus. I have roasted them, sauteed them, pickled them.
I have pureed them into cream of turnip soup. I have stir-fried them with hoisin sauce, chili garlic paste, fermented black beans; braised them with miso butter, lemon butter, peanut butter. And yet the supply never seems to diminish.
I am constantly on the lookout for new and exciting things to do with turnips. I found one five-star recipe for Turnip Gratin from the Food Network's Ann Burrell. "Who knew," she writes, "a turnip could be soooooooooooooo good!"
The recipe does, indeed, look delicious, mostly because it includes two cups of heavy cream, half a stick of butter, and a cup and a half of grated fresh parmigiano cheese. The turnips are entirely beside the point: a steaming pile of shit would taste good if baked for an hour with 2 cups of heavy cream, half a stick of butter, and a cup and a half of parmigiano. Not that I plan to try.
My daughter Julia says that turnips are the flat fish of vegetables, and I believe she is right. For several years, we subscribed to a seafood community-supported agriculture program. Every Tuesday we'd pick up a delivery of whole fish, whatever the Cape Ann fishermen had available. We were ecstatic when we got bluefish; thrilled when it was monkfish; pleased enough with pollack, haddock or hake. Ocean perch was bony but tasty. But at least half the time, what we got was flat fish--yellow flounder, gray sole--usually a big pile of them, five or six whole fish at a shot. They were a huge amount of work to gut and bone; and in the end we would get a little pile of puny fillets, fillets that tasted like nothing much and which were never totally free of nasty little bones and foul-tasting bits of fish viscera.
Steve, who is the house Fish Chef (and a very good one, at that), was floridly enthusiastic about these flat fish. "Oh look, aren't these beautiful!" he'd exclaim as he pulled flounder after flounder out of the bag. After hours of cleaning and fileting, he'd proudly present us with the finished plate (shockingly small in comparison to the massive pile of fish from which it derived). "Don't you love this flounder?" he'd enthuse. "Isn't it delicious?"
"Yes, it's very nice," we'd answer, with all the energy we could muster, which was not much. Because truly, while I'm not sure if Steve really liked the flat fish or if he was just pretending, I do know for certain that the rest of us regarded the flounder and the sole with a hearty distaste.
Turnips, thankfully, do not have bones or clinging bits of viscera. They are not objectionable, exactly. They just don't have much to offer, compared with the other white veggies of winter. They can't compete with the crunch of daikon radish, the sweetness of kohlrabi, the luscious creaminess of parsnips. Turnips just are. And I find myself, many too many times a week, serving up a bowl of, say, turnips with brown butter, lemon and capers, and enthusing, "Don't you like this? Isn't it delicious?"
"Yes, it's very nice," says Julia.
Steve doesn't even pretend to like them. "They're turnips," he scowls. And that's that.
But alas, it is winter in New England, and turnips are what we have to get through to make our way to the fresh green sprouts of spring. We'll just have to deal with the turnip overload in any way we can. Maybe it is finally time to bring on the heavy cream, the butter and the parmigiano.
And then, perhaps, I will try pouring the cream, butter and parmigiano onto that other white stuff currently piling up at the foot of my driveway.