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Go to article index for other articles written by Eric Shackle.

SWEDE TRUTH ABOUT TURNIPS

By Eric Shackle


The Turnip Man is a sprightly Canadian centenarian who still rides a bicycle. His real name is Emery Kilmer, of London, Ontario, and he celebrated his 100th birthday on October 1.

"We called him the turnip man because he used to come play cards with his car full of turnips and sell them for 25-cents apiece," says Geraldine Martin, who has been playing cards with Kilmer for 20 years. ("I used to give those away," Kilmer chips in). - London (Ontario) Free Press.

We don't know whether eating tons of turnips accounts for Emery's remarkable fitness, but mangold wurzels, those football-size turnips English farmers grow for sheep and cattle feed, were once used to cure coughs.

"One use of wurzels not widely known was as an excellent cough cure," says Joan F. Basden, whose father, Richard Blacklocks, grew them on an 11-acre farm in Romney Marsh, Kent, in the 1920s and 30s. "Slices about half an inch thick were interlaced with brown sugar and allowed to stand. A thick syrup, ideal for children with whooping cough, was produced."

Scots eat a lot of turnips, a word they shorten to neeps. "Haggis is traditionally served as 'haggis, neeps and tatties,'" says Judy Creighton, in The Canadian Press. "The neeps are mashed turnip or swede, with a little milk and allspice added, and the tatties are creamed potatoes flavoured with nutmeg."

What's the difference between turnips and swedes? On October 1 - the London (Ontario) Turnip Man's birthday - the London (England) newspaper The Times published this letter from Dr Nick O'Donovan, of Havant, Hampshire:
"Sir, Here on the South Coast, when I go to my local vegetable shop and ask for swede I am given a large, orange- fleshed vegetable. If I ask for turnip I receive a much smaller, whitish vegetable with a green top. When making the same request for these vegetables when staying at my in-laws¹ in Middlesbrough, the orange vegetable is proffered when requesting turnip and the smaller green-topped vegetable when requesting swede. I wonder at which junction of the M1 this nomenclature changes, and why?"

That letter drew these replies from other readers:
  • "A survey of the company tearoom suggested the border to be Yorkshire, with Nottinghamshire and Cheshire clearly in the 'South'. Lancashire is divided, with Manchester supporting the South but other areas applying the northern interpretation. Middlesbrough and Tyneside clearly follow the northern option but the Central North and Cumbria revert to southern ways. On very small samples the Irish Republic and New Zealand appear to follow the northern pattern while the US opted for southern. Australia is apparently too dry to grow either vegetable. ." Mark Wilson, c/o Delta Biotechnology, Nottingham.
  • "Here in the far South West we receive a large orange vegetable when asking for a turnip. I understand that if you require what in my youth in the South East was called a turnip you have to ask for a 'white turnip'. Incidentally, turnip of the orange variety is an essential ingredient of a Cornish pasty." - Mrs Ruth Parker, Mousehole, Penzance, Cornwall
  • "Alas, I cannot answer Dr O¹Donovan¹s question. But perhaps he should note that in Northern Ireland the big orange thingy is a turnip, the small whitish one a white turnip, and a swede is the England football coach. - Peter Tray, London N12.
Americans seems to have solved the problem. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary says that a TURNIP (name probably derived from turn + neep; from the well-rounded root, is either of two biennial herbs of the mustard family with thick edible roots: (1) Brassica rapa rapifera with usually flattened roots and leaves that are cooked as a vegetable, or (2) Rutabaga. It adds that a turnip is also a large pocket watch.

What the heck is rutabaga? Bag o' roots? Wrong! Several food websites quote this definition from The Food Lover's Companion, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst:

RUTABAGA [pronounced ROO-tuh-bay-guh] This cabbage-family root vegetable resembles a large (3 to 5 inches in diameter) turnip and, in fact, is thought to be a cross between cabbage and turnip. The name comes from the Swedish rotabagge, which is why this vegetable is also called a Swede or Swedish turnip. Rutabagas have a thin, pale yellow skin and a slightly sweet, firm flesh of the same color.

Then Sharon takes us back to Square 1, by adding: "There is also a white variety but it is not generally commercially available."

LINKS

The Turnip Man.
http://www.fyilondon.com/

Mangold Wurzels
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk

Scots remember Robbie Burns with haggis, whisky and a party
http://www.canoe.ca/CNEWSLife0001/20_dollar.html

Pink Pickled Turnips
http://www.canada.com/montreal/features/bestofmtl/

Root vegetable recipes
http://www.reviewjournal.com/

Copyright © 2002. Eric Shackle. eshackle@ozemail.com.au



Eric Shackle is now an 83 year old web author, and his writings have appeared all around the world. He has written a lovely and funny book, which he has published on the net for you to peruse. Hop over to Eric Shackle's eBook and have a read. A lovely way to pass that coffee break time, reading a well-written book.

[ Go to Eric's eBook ]

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