How To Cook Rutabaga Or Turnip Irish Style

Rutabaga is a very popular vegetable in Ireland, but the name is never used by the Irish to describe this favorite side for a chicken roast, ham or bacon dinner.  The Irish call this root vegetable a turnip.  The English call it a swede, and in Scotland it is often called neep.

The term rutabaga comes from the Swedish word “rotabagge”.  It is a bulbous root vegetable with a purple hued outer skin covering a dense inner yellow core.

Practically every time I buy a rutabaga at the grocery store, the check-out guy or gal holds it up with a quizzical expression.

“What’s this called,” comes the inevitable question.

I think very few Americans buy rutabagas, probably because they simply don’t know how to cook them.  Today I will solve that problem with a short tutorial on how to peel and cut a rutabaga before boiling it – the tried and trusted cooking method of most Irish cooks.

My thoughts turn to rutabagas with Thanksgiving approaching.  I know it is not a traditional vegetable for Americans to serve, but a turnip tale links it to this holiday for me.

When I was close to seven months pregnant with my triplets, my aunt visited for Thanksgiving.  She was born in Ireland, but has lived in America for over fifty years.  She suggested we have Irish mashed turnips with our turkey that year, since serving rutabaga at Thanksgiving had become a personal tradition for her over the years.

Despite resembling a moving mountain at this point in my pregnancy, I dutifully waddled to the grocery store, plonked my colossal self into a motorized cart,  and sped through the vegetable aisles, never dreaming there might be a shortage of rutabagas.  Lo and behold there wasn’t a single rutabaga to be had.

“We always run out of rutabagas at Thanksgiving,” the produce manager explained.  “It’s the one time of year they are in demand.”

I returned home shocked and empty-handed.

But never fear!

Irish American Dad fancied a scoop of mashed turnip instead of an overly-sweet, sweet potato casserole that year.  He rose to the challenge, searching high and low, from grocery store to fresh fruit market, along the turnip trail.

He did not fail us.  He found one hiding beneath a head of cabbage in a Meijers store far, far away.   And so that year we gave thanks, for one man’s perseverance in his quest to deliver a Thanksgiving rutabaga.

So enough of my waffling, let’s get down to cooking this tough little root.

The most difficult and dangerous part of this process is cutting up the rutabaga.  When picking one in the grocery store, I try to find one with a flat bottom end.  It makes it much easier to balance to make that first cut through the hard inner core.

Place the root on a cutting board, balanced on its flattest end.  Cut through the middle separating it into two equal halves.

Turn each half onto its flat side, then cut it into 1/2 inch thick semi-circles.  Throw away the first and last piece which are covered in thicker skin.

Use a paring knife to remove the outer skin.  This method is much easier than trying to peel a rutabaga with a potato peeler – really a mission impossible.

Next cut each piece into one inch cubes.  Each semi-circle usually yields nine cubes by cutting 3 vertical slices and then three more perpendicular slices.

Add the diced rutabaga to a medium saucepan and cover it with cold water.  Some of the pieces will float in the water making it impossible to cover the top by an inch. Season with salt at this point.

Make sure you add plenty of water though.  If the pot boils dry the smell of burnt rutabaga is horrible.  Believe me – I know from experience.

Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 40 to 50 minutes until the rutabaga is fork tender.  It takes quite a long time to boil this tough little vegetable.

Drain the boiling water once the rutabaga is cooked.  Return it to the pot.  Use a potato masher to break it up.  Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of butter.  Season with salt and pepper.  I use white pepper since I don’t like black flecks through my turnip.  Mash it well together to make sure the melted butter is thoroughly mixed through.

Sour cream can be used instead of butter.  Its flavor compliments the sweet yet tangy taste of the rutabagas.  Some people like puree the rutabaga in a food processor, but I prefer to leave a little bit of texture by using a potato masher.

Served hot, as a side for roast turkey dinner, mashed rutabagas are simply delicious.

I love two nice, big mounds of rutabaga mash on my plate.  Once I dined at a fancy restaurant in New Jersey.  I grew excited when I saw a pork dish on the menu with a side of rutabaga puree.  Oh how disappointed I was when all I got was a yellow squiggle of rutabaga on my plate.  It didn’t fill a hole in my tooth.

So heap those rutabagas onto your plate.  Not only do they taste great, they’re good for you too.

Happy Thanksgiving cooking to all.

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

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Comments

  1. Rutabagas are one of my favorite Irish foods! And I’ve also been aquainted with the smell of a burnt one :-)

    • Jenn – It takes a day or two to get the stink of burnt turnip out of the house. Ever since my fiasco, when I forgot about the simmering pot on the stove, my motto is plenty of water in the rutabaga pot.
      Take care,
      Mairead

      • My parents were in Germany during the holidays one year and my mother was craving turnips and couldn’t find them anywhere. My parents happened upon a farmer with a load of turnips and begged to buy some… it was a hard fight as apparently in that region of Germany turnips were not thought to be fit for human consumption. It was considered pig fodder ! ! ! The farmer was very distressed when he found out my parents were going to feed the turnips to my brother.

    • Karen Larsen says:

      My swedish grandmother cooked rutabagas all the time. A holiday favorite was mixed with mashed potatoes..she called it Routamoose……..I prepare it for Thanksgiving every year and the whole family is crazy about it….

  2. Try chopping a medium red chili into fine strings. Little more than a hairs berth. It lifts parsnips, turnips and Celeriac into something utterly sublime.
    I also find it matters if you blitz or mash. Blitzing draws out more water, but there is nothing like a duck breast sliced and placed as an island in the middle of a sea of fine turnip.

    Waste hitting whirling things again, on this side.

    • Vince – Red chili would really add an extra dimension to turnips. When I read this though I had visions of my mother adding that hint of heat to my father’s turnips. I can just hear him saying “‘Tis far from chilis I was raised”. But I, on the other hand, always love to trying new combinations and experiment in the kitchen. I think traditional Irish cooking is perfect for a little fusion of extra spices and flavors from around the world. The end product is often “utterly sublime”, as you point out.
      Thanks again,
      Mairead

  3. Penny Wolf says:

    Out of curiosity if you call a rutabaga a turnip what do you call a turnip? i have never tasted a rutabaga
    but eat turnips.I will try them AFTER Thanksgiving so I don’t reduce the supply of them too. :)

    • Penny – I suppose we would call them “little turnips”, the rutabaga being granted the grand title of “big turnip”. Doesn’t it sound like a children’s book – “Big Turnip, Little Turnip”? I must get my thinking cap on and come up with a Turnip Tale for kids. To tell you the truth I never actually saw a small turnip in Ireland. We always had rutabagas, but I am sure they are available nowadays.
      All the best,
      Mairead

    • I grew up in the South. Charleston, SC to be exact and we called rutabagas by their given names, or my grandmother called them Waxed Turnips. My grandmother made them for the holidays and I was one of a very few who loved them. She taught me how to cook them, and I make then every fall. My husband had never had one until I made them and now he loves them. The less common root vegetables get a bad rap.

      • Vida – I’m glad your grandmother introduced you to turnips or rutabagas and that you have passed your appreciation of this wonderful winter vegetable on to your family. It’s lovely to know I am not alone in my love of rutabagas.
        All the best,
        Mairead

  4. Hi Mairead,
    Always been a turnip in my house, the key ingredient in my beef stew, and one of my extra ingredients in my corned beef and cabbage.
    Have a Happy thanksgiving,
    Brian.

  5. So, just to be sure, this recipe could be used for turnips or rutabagas- right? We are getting a lot of turnips in our CSA box right now and I could definitely use more recipes for them! I have tried making mashed turnip and potatoes mixed together, but never the turnips by themselves. Thanks for sharing all these wonderful recipes!!

  6. Exactly Mairead! There are never any complaints while the taste testing is happening! Hope you are having a wonderful day so far! The planning is always my favorite part…making it all come together though is a little less fun for me. But just a little. :-)

  7. My family loves rutabaga, too. I add crumbled bacon and a little bacon grease to the mash as my Irish born mother did. She also added bacon to boiled/chopped cabbage as a side dish on occasion when not making corned beef and cabbage as a main dish.

    • Kathleen – Adding bacon to the rutabaga is a great idea. I also add it to my cabbage when I am not making corned beef. You can’t beat these dependable Irish vegetables for a great dinner.
      All the best,
      Mairead

  8. Gosh, reading your blog is so refreshing. I’ve been picking out posts from your achives, and keep finding new reasons why I love it!

    Rutabagas? One of my favorites. I buy them every chance I get. We have a produce place in our area called “Produce Junction”. All they have is fruit and vegetables. Everything is already bagged up. You go in and just tell them what you want. I buy rutabagas every time they have them. Usually two in a bag for a couple dollars.

    I use them in soups, stews, mashed, but my favorite way to cook them is to roast them in a pan with other root vegetables!

    I am cooking a ham today and we are having mashed rutabagas with it for Super Bowl Sunday dinner.

    • Your Super Bowl Sunday dinner sounds delicious. We love mashed rutabagas in my house too. I love to mix them with my mashed potato on my plate and then melt a big knob of butter in the middle of the pile. Lately my local grocery store has been stocking rutabagas. I often wonder if I am their primary rutabaga-buying customer. Anyway, enjoy your dinner and I hope your team wins the Super Bowl.
      All the best,
      Mairead

  9. Shawn Marie Durkan says:

    I love rutabaga. My grandma made them mashed at least two or three times a week when we were living with her as kids. :)

  10. Last (or maybe the year before) Thanksgiving my 100% Irish dad asked me to buy rutabagas and try to make them the way his first generation Irish mom (my grandmother) used to make them. He only had a vague idea how she made them. Steamed or boiled then mashed, with chicken stock maybe, maybe sauted onions and then brown sugar and maybe some spices. I tried that and they were sort of meh. I think dad was the only one who tried them and only because of my effort. Does this ring any bells for you on a recipe?

    • Kelly – I’m afraid your recipe does not ring a bell with me. Salt and white pepper were considered spices by my grandmothers, and that was as far as they went with seasonings. Rutabagas are usually boiled in water. Years ago my granny would have added diced rutabaga to the same pot as the boiling bacon, so that they would absorb some of the bacon flavor. After removing the bacon, she drained the water before mashing them. Boiling them in plain water works great though since they have a strong taste when cooked. Mashed with butter, salt and pepper is the typical old Irish way of serving them. I do add a dollop of sour cream since moving to America. I think it compliments their slightly bitter flavor.
      Thanks so much for stopping by.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

    • Kelly – I make rutabaga the way my Irish born mother did. Cut it into small cubes and boil in salted water. Fry up some bacon (4-5 slices per “head”), cool and break into small pieces. When the rutabaga is done, drain it and mash it well. Add the bacon pieces plus salt and pepper to taste. Add some bacon grease to add extra flavor and moisture. If bacon isn’t your thing, I agree with Mairead about mashing it with butter, salt and pepper. I’m not big on sour cream so don’t know about that. Take care & have a good Thanksgiving. Kathleen

  11. A question: To simplify things tomorrow, I’d like to peel and cut my rutabaga today. Is it OK to do that? And if I do, should I keep it overnight in a bag with some water…or without?

    • If you pre-peel and slice your rutabaga I would store it covered in water in an airtight bowl or bag. If you store it without water, the slices might dry out overnight. When you cook it tomorrow, use fresh water for boiling. Hope you enjoy your rutabaga. Thanks so much for checking out my site.
      Best wishes for a very happy Thanksgiving.
      Mairéad

  12. Hello. My mom always made rutabaga for Thanksgiving, so now I do. I’m. 1/4 Irish, so maybe that explains why I love it:-). I’m boiling my rutabaga now, but am concerned because it is much lighter in color than usual. It’s more pale yellow than orange. I’m hoping it’s not bitter. Any suggestions on what to do if it is? I always put some Cool Whip in it. Maybe a little more of that than usual?
    Thanks, Suzanne

    • Suzanne – I think your Irish genes are shining through your rutabaga loving taste buds. I hope it did not turn out bitter. A little extra Cool Whip might do the trick. My other suggestion is to try a little honey, but that may not mix well with Cool Whip. I’ll keep my fingers crossed they turn out ok.
      Have a lovely Thanksgiving,
      Mairéad

      • Thanks Mairead! It actually turned out well even though it’s lighter in color.
        Happy Thanksgiviing! I enjoyed reading your blog about rutabaga . I also enjoyed reading about your trip to Sligo. My husband & I were in Ireland for 10 days in July 2012. We loved it and hope to go back, this time to Northern Ireland. Back to food- everywhere we ate in Ireland, the food was piping hot ( and delicious). How do they do that in Ireland? It’s not like that in the states.

        • Suzanne – It’s lovely to hear you plan to return to Ireland after a successful trip last year. Food in Ireland is exceptionally good, and always served really hot. My mother is very fussy about serving hot food. She even heats our dinner plates before plating. I’m not sure how Irish restaurants manage to keep the food piping hot, but there is a noticeable difference compared to America. If I ever find out the secret I’ll let you know.
          Best wishes and I hope you all enjoyed your rutabaga.
          Mairéad

  13. when I was a kid my mom made rutabagas for thanksgiving. she sauteed onions and mixed them with fried bacon this with the grease and butter went into the mash.:-p I’ll be making them tomorrow 11/28/13 happy thanksgiving.!!!

  14. I researched the web and it says a rutabaga is a cross between a turnip and cabbage. That would mean a turnip was different. Would you cook them the same way?

    • Peggi – I’ve tried cooking American turnips this way, but they didn’t turn out as tasty as a rutabaga, which has a denser flesh. The smaller turnips were a little watery when cooked this way.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

  15. Richard Hinely says:

    I grew up thinking they were only a southern food, but was pleased to see they are international. I’m cooking rutubagas and turnips together tonight in a pot with a few slices of bacon on the top of the water for flavor. We eat them without mashing them up. They fill the house with a special aroma!

  16. being irish watching an american cooking programme and being confused with what a rudabegga was :D the good owld turnip . . The perfect thing with bacon and cabbage ! ! A regular veg in my house. . . . .
    Nice method of mash big turnip

    • Dawn – I think we Irish really do appreciate “the good owld turnip”. Growing up we had it once or twice a week for our dinner. I love to mash my turnip and potatoes together with butter.
      Take care,
      Mairéad

  17. Always had turnip at my grandmothers’ house. Happened to pick one up at the grocery the other day (don’t ask why) and just the aroma on my hands after cutting it up evoked a sense memory !

    You ever roast turnip or rutabaga?

    • Matt – Sometimes I roast turnip, parsnips and carrots together – they turn out delicious. It’s amazing how a simple task such as cutting a turnip, can evoke loving memories of the past. Thanks for checking out my website.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

  18. Jennifer says:

    My mother would mash carrots into the mix if she needed to to create some sweetness. At times she would also use a wee bit of brown sugar.

  19. Jackie Grice says:

    I REQUESTED A RUTABAGA AND SHOULD HAVE SAID “SMALL”. iT TURNED OUT TO BE VERY LARGE AND IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME TO CUT.

    I HAD HEARD THAT IT WAS EASIER TO CUT AND PEEL IF PUT IN THE MICROWAVE FOR A LENGTH OF TIME, BUT I CAN’T REMEMBER HOW LONG. DO YOU KNOW. THEY SAID IT WAS
    VERY EASY TO HANDLE THEN. THANKS JACKIE

    • I think 4 to 7 minutes should work on high. Time depends on the size of your rutabaga. Place it on a microwave safe plate covered with waxed paper or Saran Wrap. In America rutabagas are covered in a wax coating so if microwaving with the peel on, this wax will melt. The covered plate helps with clean up. Hope this helps.
      Mairead

  20. Patrick Lyons says:

    Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter we have turnips (rutabaga…I don’t know what those purple and white things are called…). I cut them differently; half the turnip, peel with a knife then slice about 1/4″ thick then chop to, say, 1″ pieces- because that’s how my Mother cut them. However before chopping many of the slices would disappear in the hands of children, with a dunk in water and salted that slice of turnip was so tasty. However it is an acquired taste says my wife–but not my children and I. My wife likes them mashed and I like them both mashed and raw with salt. Try it!

    • Hi Patrick – I love to hear from others who love rutabaga as much as I do. Before I wrote this blog recipe, I believed I was a very rare rutabaga loving American. Nearly every time I purchase a rutabaga the cashier inevitably asks me what it is. I was really beginning to get worried my crew are the only rutabaga eating family in America. But ever since I wrote this post, so many readers have added comments or e-mailed me singing the praises of this seldom praised vegetable. But I do agree with your wife – it is an acquired taste, one for me that was nourished and cultivated at a young age by my mother.
      Thanks so much for stopping by,
      Mairéad

  21. Maureen Donnelly says:

    The best way to cut a rutabaga is to ask the butcher at your grocery story to cut and quarter (or 1/8) it. Then cook until outside is soft. Cool a bit and peel. Finish cooking in a clean pot.

  22. Rutabagas (aka turnips) are always part of our Thanksgiving dinner! It wouldn’t be the holidays without them. Our Grandmother came over from Ireland, and knowing her, she probably brought some with her! One question: Here in the western U.S., these turnips are not common and often have a lot of green around the outer skin. Can I just peel that off or are they simply too unripe? Thanks. Long live rutabagas!

    • Kathleen – I have found that rutabagas with a lot of green are more bitter than the ones without. However, sometimes it’s hard to find one that is perfectly purple and yellow in coloring. I would just cut away the green. You can always taste a little piece of the raw turnip to check if it is too bitter before you cook it. I’m not an expert on gardening, but I think green rutabagas won’t give you an upset tummy like a green potato might. I think the top bit can turn green if they grow a little above the soil with too much skin exposed to the light. And definitely I agree with you – Long live rutabagas!
      All the best,
      Mairéad

  23. Maureen O Hanlon says:

    Thank you Mairead , love turnip and bacon or just mashed like you did .
    Maureen

  24. My mother makes turnips for all our big family meals; christmas, thanksgiving, etc. We live in eastern canada and no one around here even knows what a rutabaga is, we’ve all called them turnips for years. My mother always cooks hers with sugar, instead of salt, to sweeten them! Might have to try this next time around.

    • Hi Florence – It’s interesting to hear that in eastern Canada rutabagas are also called turnips. I know there is a huge Irish cultural influence in Newfoundland, which makes me wonder if that is why people in eastern Canada use the term turnips. I think I’ll give cooking my rutabagas with sugar a try. A few readers have made that suggestion and it sounds like a great tip.
      Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
      Mairéad

      • Jayson McGraw says:

        We call them Turnips here as well! I was confused when I google searched them and none of the food looked like what I was used to; I lived most my life near London Ontario, and my mom got the recipe from my Grandma, and so on; being a ginger and of Irish heritage, cant say I’m all that surprised!

      • We use the sugar because it cuts down on that “woody” texture of the turnips and adds just a lovely layer of sweetness! I’ve seen my aunts use brown sugar sometimes too!

  25. Eileen Stevenson says:

    My son found your website and we are SO HAPPY!!!! When my mom died the recipie died with her. She made Canadian Turnups (as she called them) every Thanksgiving and Christmas. She didnt like making them because they were so hard to cut and boil and boil and boil! but we kids loved it so she made it and used sugar and bacon to season it. Now my son is going to make it for the family and its because of your blog. Thankyou sooooo much!!!! And Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!.

  26. Leona Conlon says:

    We love rutabagas at Thanksgiving. I make them with carrots, butter, salt and pepper. Mash it all together. This tip I received years ago at an Irish restaurant in New York City when I enjoyed it as a side.
    Carrots give it some sweetness and also are good for you!

  27. Don Stephens says:

    Thanks. My family is Irish American from New York and we always had mashed “turnips” at Thanksgiving. Found out much later they were really rutabagas. I’ve become the designated turnip boiler and masher. Everyone (mostly) love them.

  28. Mairead, thank you so much for your blog. I’m 1/4 Irish and grew up on rutabagas or waxed turnips for our holidays. We also had them during the winter months once a week.

    Turnips were a small purple and white little veggie. The taste is different. I roast them with carrots and parsnips. Before serving I add a little honey butter glaze to them. Yum! I will be making your recipe for our Thanksgiving tomorrow. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

  29. Just now saw this post begun last year!

    I grew up eating rutabagas, but never knew they were called that. We also called them turnips! It is interesting to learn that the turnip eating must have come from the Irish side of the family, and not my mom’s Italian side, hahaha! We had them mashed and mixed with a little mashed white potatoes. They were wonderful at thanksgiving with gravy, but I loved them even more when my dad made them into turnip/potato pancakes the next day. Crispy and hot with a pat of real butter on them… Oh, yum!

    • Patricia – Turnip potato pancakes sound delicious. I make fried cakes with parsnips and potatoes, but I must try some mashed turnip with potatoes. They sound so tasty with a crispy crust.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

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