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.
In Ireland, this favorite Thanksgiving vegetable is called a turnip.
Why Do The Irish Call A Rutabaga A Turnip?
The Irish call this root vegetable a turnip. Why exactly is not clear.
The English call it a swede, and in Scotland it is often called a 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.
American rutabagss, Irish yellow turnips and British swedes all belong to the Brassica napobrassica family of plants.
Now small little white turnips are technically called Brassica rapa. These smaller, white fleshed roots are very popular in southern American cooking, and provide us with that ever so southern staple, their famous turnip greens.
Rutabagas for Thanksgiving:
My thoughts turn to rutabagas with Thanksgiving approaching. I know it’s 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 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.
And being an Irish man, he knew exactly what he was looking for, once we told him he was on a quest for a good, old Irish turnip.
Purchasing Rutabaga in America:
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.
So be prepared to advise the checkout person that the vegetable they are weighing and scanning is a rutabaga.
However, things are beginning to change in the American rutabaga world. They’re becoming a staple in the Keto loving community, with many Keto lovers using them as a replacement for potatoes.
There are many ways to cook turnips or rutabagas. They’re delicious in soups and many people love to roast them. I make a delicious carrot and rutabaga soup which you might enjoy.
But no matter which recipe you choose, the first step to cooking with rutabaga, involves peeling it.
How To Peel and Prepare A Rutabaga, Swede or Irish Turnip for Cooking:
Today I will solve that problem of how to prepare a rutabaga for cooking, with a short synopsis of my more in-depth tutorial on how to peel and cut a rutabaga.
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.
Perform this step with care.
Some people like to microwave the rutabaga before peeling it to make the whole process easier.
I personally don’t microwave my rutabaga before peeling, but I have years of rutabaga cutting experience under my belt. What a claim to fame!
If you would like to soften your rutabaga in the microwave to make it easier to peel, then follow these steps.
- Prick the rutabaga skin in several places with a skewer.
- Wrap it in damp paper towels and place it in a microwavable dish.
- Cook it on the high microwave setting for 5 minutes.
- Then turn it upside down and repeat for another 5 minutes.
- Remove it from the microwave and allow it to cool before slicing it in half as directed above.
- You are now ready to move on with the next steps outlined below.
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.
Now you’re ready to cook your rutabaga.
Today we’re going to be boiling our turnip or rutabaga using the tried and trusted cooking method of most Irish cooks.
So enough of my waffling, let’s get down to cooking this tough little root. Here’s my traditional recipe, handed down from my mother, and her mother before her.
Ingredients for Irish Style Mashed Rutabaga:
Here you’ll find a quick list of what you’ll need for this recipe. Check out the printable recipe at the bottom of this post for US and Metric equivalent versions of the recipe. There you can choose the measurement system that works best for you.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- white pepper
- sour cream (optional)
- light brown sugar (optional)
Directions for Cooking A Turnip Irish Style:
Here you’ll find step-by-step photographic instructions to help you recreate this recipe successfully. There are plenty of tips included along the way.
Peel and cube the rutabaga.
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.
If you microwaved your rutabaga when peeling it, the cooking time will be a little shorter.
Drain the boiling water once the rutabaga is cooked. Return it to the pot.
Use a potato masher to break it up. Add 2 tablespoons of butter. Season with salt and white pepper.
Most Irish people use white pepper since we don’t like black flecks through mashed turnip.
Mash the rutabaga well together to make sure the melted butter is thoroughly mixed through.
Add the sour cream, if using, and mix through the rutabaga mash.
If you wish to limit how much butter you use, you can omit butter and increase the amount of sour cream used instead of using butter.
Sour cream flavor compliments the sweet yet tangy taste of the rutabagas. Some people like to purée the rutabaga in a food processor, but I prefer to leave a little bit of texture by using a potato masher.
Another tip to sweeten the rutabaga is to add a few teaspoons of brown sugar at this stage. It adds an extra layer of deliciousness.
I didn’t grow up eating brown sugar sweetened turnips so I’m going to make this step optional.
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.
Here’s the printable recipe:
- 1 medium rutabaga peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons sour cream optional
- 2 teaspoons light brown sugar optional
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon white pepper optional
- Peel and cube the rutabaga. Add the diced rutabaga to a medium saucepan and cover it with cold water.
- Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 40 to 50 minutes until the rutabaga is fork tender.
- Drain the boiling water once the rutabaga is cooked. Return it to the pot. Use a potato masher to break it up. Add 2 tablespoons of butter. Season with salt and white pepper and mash again.
- Add the sour cream, if using, and mix through the rutabaga mash.
- Add the brown sugar, if using, and mix through the rutabaga mash.
- Serve hot as a vegetable side dish for dinner.
Nutrition Information is estimated based on the ingredients and cooking instructions as described in each recipe and is intended to be used for informational purposes only. Please note that nutrition details may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients used.
And for special dinners like Christmas and Thanksgiving we love to serve roast potatoes, with our turnips or rutabagas.
Rutabags or Irish turnips may not be on everyone’s menu, nor be to everyone’s taste. They probably fall firmly into either the ‘totally love it’ or ‘completely hate it’ category for nearly everyone.
Nevertheles, judging by all the wonderful comments on this blog post, readers around this little corner of the world wide web, definitely place it in the ‘love it’ category.
Happy Thanksgiving cooking to all, and thanks for following my recipes and ramblings.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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