What is a rutabaga anyway?

What is a rutabaga anyway?

Tess, in Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles, is forced to hack swedes — rutabagas — out of a field in Flintcomb-Ash, which is referred to as a “starve-acre place.” The root vegetable is a Swedish turnip, or rutabaga. She is saddened when the swede she gets “has the mark of the spade” on it — symbolic of her own “tainted” status.

Rutabagas and turnips have their own status issues; they are sometimes objects of some confusion on the dinner plate — even for some chefs. A rutabaga is a cross between the turnip, usually a white root vegetable, and the cabbage species. It appeared in eastern Europe about 1600 and was likely the result of turnips and kale that were growing side by side. It is whitish to yellow and is a portion of the plant’s main stem which has become swollen. It is also starchier than turnips and kohlrabi and has half the carbs of a potato. It’s best boiled and mashed.

You can find the rutabaga at The Belmont Bistro in Kitchener’s Belmont Village. They’ve gotten the root veg right; currently, they serve it in a beef and barley stew with boneless beef short rib, potato, carrots, rutabaga, red wine and herbs.

[Image/Wikimedia Commons]


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