Bitter Turnip Tears


So – I’ve had some success with my new garden so far this year, but the outright winner in the ‘I can grow in crap soil’ category has been the turnips.

Now, I’m not sure I actually knew what a turnip was when I planted them. Much beloved of Baldrick from Blackadder, I think I confused it with swede, to be honest. Yellow, watery, boring. So when I asked Mr Chopsticks what seeds he would choose to go in our garden, and his pick was turnip, I didn’t altogether panic. How wrong I was.

For turnip is Nasty. Bitter, gross & bleagh. I have a hundredweight of the stuff, and for the life of me I can’t make it palatable. We’ve tried peeling, boiling & mashing with butter, salt & pepper. For any decent respectable vegetable, this would produce a nice side to a lovely salt bush lamb. Not so the turnip. Quite spoilt my chops. The normally sanguine Mr C  left his in a guilty pile.

I turned to Maggie Beer. She knows her stuff, that lady; I knew she’d have a solution. Her recommendation was to caramelise them. So I peeled, cut into strips and sautéed in butter & lemon juice until just tender, then added a tablespoon each of sugar and red wine vinegar and simmered until the sugar caramelised. This it did mask the bitterness a little, but, steely and metallic, it remained skulking in the background.

I swept the interweb for solutions. The two main camps of opinion are:

  • cook in milk or cream
  • cook with a potato

No-one seems willing to state what the fate of the potato is after this treatment. If it ‘soaks up’ the bitterness, does one eat the potato, presumably now rendered bitter? Of does the potato simply spirit away the bitterness? Other suggestions were to salt it before cooking, as per aubergine (a process I’ve never really thought aubergines actually deserve).

Being of a logical, scientific bent, I decided to carry out a test of these two methods. I cleaned, peeled and sliced 4 freshly-pulled-from-the-ground turnips. In one pan I simmered half the slices in milk. After it boiled over because I wasn’t paying attention, I topped it up and continued simmering. In the other pan, I boiled the pieces in water, alongside one peeled and quartered potato. Mr C and I taste tested the results.

The pieces simmered with the potato were a little less bitter than my rather unscientific memory of the ‘peeled, boiled and mashed with butter’ version we had the night before. Tellingly, the potato was a little more bitter than usual, proving it had indeed soaked up the nastiness.

However to my considerable surprise, the pieces boiled in milk were much sweeter tasting – almost completely bitterness free! There was a slight tang, to be sure, but nothing worse than boiled greens (and my preference is for non bitter greens). Result! Trouble is, himself is now scarred by my using him as a Turnip guinea pig and is refusing all attempts to feed it to him.

Anyone for turnip?


One thought on “Bitter Turnip Tears

  1. Pingback: Hard Graft | lefthandedchopsticks

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