About Rutabaga

February 25, 2008

About Rutabaga

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The rutabaga (Brassica napobrassica), a relatively newcomer in the world of cruciferous vegetables, is a root vegetable that looks very much like a turnip with yellow-orange flesh and ridges at its neck. It is thought to have evolved from a cross between a wild cabbage and a turnip.  The earliest records of rutabaga’s existence are from the seventeenth century in Southern Europe where they were first eaten as well as used for animal fodder.  It’s curious that throughout history animals were often fed the healthiest foods, foods thought to be inappropriate for human consumption.  In some European countries, rutabagas are often a food of last resort because of their association with the food shortages of World Wars I and II.  In America, rutabagas were first cultivated in the northern parts of the country in the early 1800s.  Today, Canada and the northern states are the greatest producers of the rutabaga.

Because rutabagas thrive best in colder climates, they became popular in Scandinavia, and especially in Sweden, the country that earned them the name “swedes” and “Swedish turnips.” In fact, the word rutabaga comes the old Swedish word “rotabagge”, although they are currently called “kålrot” in Sweden.  In England, Wales and some other commonwealth nations, rutabagas are still called swedes.

Although this beta carotene-rich vegetable has been grown and marketed in our country for nearly 200 years, it remains an uncommon food in American dining.  It’s actually a great tasting vegetable with a delicate sweetness and flavor that hints of the light freshness of cabbage and turnip. With its easy preparation and versatility, great nutrition, and excellent flavor, the rutabaga can easily become an endearing family favorite.  Rutabagas can be used in any recipes that call for root vegetables.  They can be roasted, steamed, fried, and used as a flavor enhancer for soups, stews and casseroles.  They are often boiled and mashed with potatoes and milk, cream or butter.  They are also quite delicious raw:  they can be sliced, diced, grated and included in salads and coleslaw.

Rutabaga roots store up to one month in the refrigerator.  The greens are edible and flavorful, just as turnip greens are.

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