Organic & Awesome in Charlottesville
The turnip may be the most humble vegetable in the world*. While beets, kale, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, and even the turnip’s close cousin, the rutabega, have all successfully shaken their Depression-era associations and been reborn as ‘superfoods,’ hip enough to be roasted in the 21st century kitchen, the turnip remains, in the words of the master fermenter Sandor Katz, ‘much maligned and under-appreciated.’
It might be that the last (only?) time the turnip starred in anything was 1950, when the popular BBC children’s television series Whirligig featured Mr. Turnip, a Pelham Puppet with the voice of Peter Hawkins. Despite his single root of hair and unfortunate catchphrase of “lawky, lawky, lum,” a magazine feature written at the time is proof of Mr. Turnip’s popularity with British schoolchildren – at least on television, if not on their plates.
Fast forward 60 years, and the turnip still awaits its rebranding on this side of the Atlantic. As a member of the Brassicaceae family, the turnip is a source important vitamins, fiber, antioxidents, and disease-fighting phytochemicals. While other brassicas like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and bok choy are now well known for their health benefits, turnips remain obscure. Is it their color? Their texture? Their tendency to be sold already topped, sans greens?
Turnip roots and greens are low in calories and high in dietary fiber, vitamins C, A, K, B6 (pyridoxine), B2 (riboflavin), B1 (thiamine), B5 (panthothenic), B3 (niacin), folate, manganese, calcium, copper, potassium, magnesium, and iron. Overwhelmed? Let us break it down for you: practically, this means that turnips can contribute to improved circulation, alkalizing, colon health, and blood coagulation; prevention of rheumatoid arthritis; relief of bladder and liver complaints; improved energy levels; and weight loss. High five!
Turnip greens, however, are the real prize. Richer in nutrients than their roots, turnip greens are an excellent source of beta-carotenes and higher in calcium than milk. Turnip greens outscore their cousins cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and broccoli in total cancer-fighting phytonutrient content, including glucosinolate, which WebMD deems important.
All this is fine, you may say, but aren’t turnips woody and tasteless – a little boring? After all, there’s a reason why Mr. Turnip looked more like Mr. Rogers than Dr. McDreamy. And what of the greens – if they’re so great, why are all turnips sold topped?
Here at High Five, we grow two types of (heirloom, organic) turnips: white egg and golden ball. This week, we guarantee an abundance of white egg turnips on both Wednesday and Saturday’s markets. A southern favorite for a few hundred years, white egg turnips are never woody, mild in flavor, fine-grained and tender – in other words, delicious. To the uninitiated palette, their greens may taste a little bitter (similar to kale, but more delicate), but steaming or sautéing them in butter and garlic will take away the bitterness and leave you with a nutrient-packed side to complement your other culinary adventures. Though we are guilty of selling topped turnips, we are happy to bring you greens on request – just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We eat the greens ourselves all week long, and it’s only right to share the love.
But, you may ask, how do we eat all of those turnips and greens? A little research has revealed the culinary versatility of both. When preparing turnips, first be sure to scrub them with a vegetable brush or peel the outer layer. Try them mashed with butter and shallots, add them raw to salad, roast them with sage, make them into oven chips, braise them in stock, or turn them into sauerkraut or coleslaw. Chop them, grate them, mash them, puree them, or leave them whole; then boil, steam, roast, or stir-fry them, or add them to a soup, stew, or salad.
For the greens, we recommend giving them a good washing in a strainer or a salad spinner, since their texture (similar to radish greens) tends to hold on to a bit of grit. If you like their taste, chop them up and add them to your salad greens; if you want to remove the bitterness, steam or sauté them alone or with other seasonal vegetables and serve them as a side or under your eggs with breakfast. A staple of our refrigerator this month has been turnip green-based soup; try it with potatoes, broccoli, and sage. . For more recipes that look delicious, check out our Pinterest page.
CSA members, you can look forward to a bunch of white egg turnips in your box this week (Wednesday pick up). For everyone else, come and find us on Wednesday or Saturday and pick up your weekly fix of the new superfood!
* We tend to associate the description of ‘humble’ with roots and tubers – anything grown in the dirt. Of these, many might argue that the potato is the humblest, but consider this: historically, turnips were very popular in the Middle East and Europe, but the widespread cultivation of potatoes displaced the turnip’s reign. Also, Mr. Potato Head displaced Mr. Turnip. Today, turnips are mostly consumed by poor, twenty-something-year-old, first-season farmers who can’t sell them at Farmers in the Park.
Infrequently Asked Questions:
What’s the deal with these oxalates and goitrogens all up in my Brassicaceae?
Some people wonder about the oxalate and goitrogen content of cruciferous vegetables. More people wonder what oxalates and goitrogen are. Never fear, we are happy to share some of our newly-obtained knowledge (high five to Google).
Oxalates are naturally-occurring substances found in plants, animals, and in humans. In chemical terms, oxalates belong to a group of molecules called organic acids, and are routinely made by plants, animals, and humans. Our bodies always contain oxalates, and our cells routinely convert other substances into oxalates. There are a few, relatively rare health conditions that require strict oxalate restriction. These conditions include absorptive hypercalciuria type II, enteric hyperoxaluria, and primary hyperoxaluria (you know who you are, and we hope you get better soon). Since some people with these conditions, or other kidney or gallbladder problems, may be on an oxalate-restricted doctor, please talk to your doctor before going on a turnip (or other brassica) fast.
Goitrogens are naturally-occurring substances that suppress the function of the thyroid gland by interfering with iodine uptake. The only people who need to be concerned about goitrogen intake are those with existing thyroid disorders. Goitrogens are mostly found in soybeans (isoflavones) and cruciferous vegetables (isothiocyanates). Luckily for the turnip-lover, cooking can help inactivate around one-third of the goitrogenic compounds found in brassica.