Friday, May 25, 2012

Fun with Turnips

Yes, you read that correctly: this post is entitled "fun with turnips."

In an earlier entry I mentioned that friends of ours were just discovering that turnips are delicious. We only came to this realization ourselves over the winter, with the great barley soup adventure. After the success of the Leipziger Allerlei, I decided I would buy another bunch at the farmers market to make a dish with the potatoes we already had in the pantry. I considered fixing potato-turnip latkes as a vegetarian main dish but settled on a side dish of steamed and mashed potatoes and turnips so that I could use the turnip greens, too.

With the first bunch, I had cooked up the greens with some butter, garlic, and salt. They were okay but not spectacular. But I wasn't ready to give up yet. Since they are a dark green leafy veggie, turnip greens have a ton of vitamins: A, C, K, also some E and B6, plus folate. I steamed the second bunch on top of the chopped potato and turnip wedges, chopped them coarsely, and then folded them into the mash. They added color, a little taste--and of course nutritional value.

We first ate them with pork chops, but I found that the above recipe was really rather bland. So on advice from Dear Old Dad (DOD), I added garlic powder to future servings. This increased their score on the can-I-get-Dear-Husband-to-eat-this? scale from "yeah, this is okay" to "mmm, these are pretty good"!

Then we tried them with scallops sauteed in curry butter and 1) steamed asparagus one night (from the farmers market, natch) and 2) grilled asparagus with olive oil, garlic, and grated parmesan cheese another night (pictured). I want to give a shout out to my Gram for the curry mix she brought me back from their trip to Turkey. I was planning on a spicy palate, but this curry turned out to be rather sweet. Which is just as well, because of course I just dumped some into the melted butter rather than measuring it and therefore managed to avoid burning anyone's tongue. Grilling the asparagus was another tip from a friend, who had been over eating the mushroom lasagna that didn't quite use up all the (rather pricey) parmesan I had bought at our local Cheese & Crackers store. This was quite the tasty dinner! It just tasted like summer.

By the way, I should mention that the turnips we get at our local farmers market are not the culprits in the infamous "turnip winter" of 1916-1917, the low point in the German food situation during World War I. Part of the fascination with the subject of Germany’s food situation during War World I stems from just how badly the government, the military, industrial leaders, farmers, shopkeepers, and housewives handled it. Words like “crisis,” “breakdown,” “catastrophe,” and “disaster” figure prominently in descriptions of what happened. Most historians agree that the largest share of the blame falls to the imperial government and the Prussian General Staff. At the war’s onset, neither had any plans addressing the food supply in the event of a protracted conflict, as that would have betrayed a lack of confidence in German troops’ ability to carry out the Schlieffen Plan (go through Belgium to attack France). The military’s own provisioning strategy was to purchase large quantities of foodstuffs at higher-than-market prices. This assured their preference as buyers but cost the government exorbitant amounts of money, drove up prices for lower governments and individual consumers, and reduced the available food supply.

 the British navy blockading the German pots on the North Sea, the military taking priority in food distribution and Germany’s central and eastern European allies increasingly unable to supply their large and hungry neighbor with grain, meat, or fruit (or oil, coal, fertilizer, or textiles), the food situation rapidly deteriorated. Supplies decreased, demand and prices increased, municipalities tried to institute price ceilings, farmers withheld their goods from the open market, and eventually numerous branches of food production (bread, meat, milk, etc.) were socialized and most staples were rationed "physiologically." The chapter I am writing now looks at how nutritional science and actual experiences of hunger interacted.

Postcard from 1916 "remembering the wartime" and encouraging Germans
to participate willingly in the planned food economy, here represented by
foodstuffs wearing ration cards for clothing. (That was eventually rationed
too.) Affected goods included meat, bread, sugar, soap, butter, milk, flour,
and--in the corner--toadstools (haha!). If you couldn't find these things in
stores, they were also often available on the black market at a higher price.*
Anyway, the winter of 1916-1917 was unusually long, cold, and wet. The potato harvest was bad, in part because many farmers left their crop in the fields in order to harvest it in the spring when the price ceilings would be raised. The tubers rotted. And so animal fodder became human food. The "turnips" in the name for that winter are not the Speiserübe we have been enjoying but rather Steckrübe. Speiserübe (literally, "food turnips") are white turnips--small, smooth, with some purple or green near the stems. Steckrübe ("planting turnips") are known in English as swedes, rutabagas, or yellow turnips--large, rough on the outside, and purplish on top. Although the varieties the Germans were growing tended to have a bitter taste, they were used to replace the missing potatoes and then some. Wrote a contemporary observer, an Englishwoman married to a German man, some years later:

"We had [turnips] for breakfast, dinner, and supper; we made them into jam to spread on sticky, heavy black bread that was already full of carrots and potato peelings. My gorge rises now when I think of it. We cooked them with out weekly quarter-pound ration of meat for dinner, we tried to disguise them as soup."

Today in Germany a popular "healthful" kind of whole-wheat bread has bits of carrot in it; and of course now we accept that most of the nutrients are in the potato skin, but at the time those were considered fillers at best and kitchen scraps at worst. Wrote an Australian woman musician caught for the duration of the war in Leipzig: "I think that if I were to bray [like a donkey] is all that could be expected...after a month of living on parsnips and turnips." So while we have been having "fun with turnips," we realize that not everyone does or has!

* This image is courtesy of the free online repository of WWI ephemera, europeana 1914-1918.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments let me know that I am not just releasing these thoughts into the Ether...