Friday, May 15, 2015

Trying to Eat Turnips

My "seed ball" oats and turnips experiment that turned into a wheat and turnip cover crop instead
As a quick reminder, last February I planted a few acres of an oat and turnip mix in a field as a cover crop experiment, then I planted some of that leftover seed mix in my farm garden/test plot area.  At the time I talked about how a few acres of turnips would feed a bunch of people and I promised myself that I would make an effort to eat some of those turnips since turnips and me have had a long running dislike for each other ever since I was a little kid. 

The oat/turnip mix I planted in the field had to be killed about a month ago so that I could plant my grain sorghum (I'm not sure if planting oats and turnips in the spring if I'm planning on planting grain sorghum will work around here), but the turnips I planted in the garden have grown into a great crop of nice-looking turnips.  The oats never came up, so instead of oats and turnips, I ended up with a nice mixture of turnips and wheat.  It looks like a weedy mess to the uninformed, but there are a bunch of nice looking turnips in that mess.

Perfect looking turnips with nice green tops and bulbs
So I decided that the day of reckoning was here, it was time to pull some turnips and see how they tasted, and if I was going to eat turnips, I decided to go all out and eat both the turnip greens and the actual turnips.  I cleaned the greens in cold water to get any dirt off of them (I imagine that gritty turnip greens are less than delicious), trimmed off the stems, cut them up, and wilted/steamed them down in a pot with some bacon and onion.  The turnips were just peeled and cooked with some potatoes to make some mashed potato/turnips.
Cut up turnip greens, onion, a little bacon, and steam
As I was cooking the greens, they looked pretty good, I taste tested them to make sure that they were tender. etc. and they tasted alright, but when it came time to eat them I couldn't get over the way an occasional bite would be overly bitter which might have been from the little bit of smaller stems I didn't trim completely off.  A little sugar sprinkled over them seemed to help a little, but they were still a little too bitter for my tastes.  I'm not sure, but I had the thought that it's possible that that bitterness would lessen or would "work" if the turnip greens were used in some sort of soup (it seems like I've seen some sort of ham, bean, and turnip green soup somewhere).

The mashed potatoes and turnips were fine, with just a little turnip taste, but what's the point of eating turnips if they taste sort of like mashed potatoes?  I'd rather eat mashed potatoes instead of eating mashed potatoes and turnips just for the sake of eating turnips.

I feel almost like a five-year old that's throwing a fit about having to eat spinach, but I have to admit that I'm still not that fond of turnips, at least the way I cooked them.  Results and tastes may vary, so feel free to try them for yourself and comment if you have any suggestions.     


  1. Those are some nice-looking turnips, Rich. I'm tempted to drive over there and take you up on the offer... :)

    I dunno. Turnips are sorta bitter... I've read that it's because of all the calcium... which is good, but not good-tasting. Potatoes seem to take the edge off.

    What I like about the things is that they grow a lot better than taters for me. So I can mix a lot of turnips with a a few store-bought taters. Then again... store-bought taters are just about the best bargain around... so... I dunno. If I've got turnips, great, if not, no tears.

    Smoke 'em if you got 'em is my thinking.

    1. I have to say, that's a dang nice pot of turnip greens to me... man... I failed to get a garden in at all this year, makes me miss those greens... still plenty of canned stuff to carry us to next year...

      I can almost smell that steam coming off of them. Funny how things can be too much one year, and not enough the next. I'm going to be craving turnips until next year, and then I swear I'll get some in...

    2. The offer still stands, anyone that shows up is welcome to take as many turnips as they want.

      Not cutting out every little bit of stem might have been been one reason I was getting that bitter bite once in awhile, carefully laying out each leaf and trimming all the stem away might be the way to prepare them.

      When I combined a little roast beef with the greens in a forkful, the bitterness wasn't as noticeable (sort of like the combination of mustard or horseradish and beef?) which makes me wonder if they'd work in a soup.

      They were edible, they're easy to grow, they're probably packed with all sorts of nutrition, and if I had to feed myself out of the garden I'd be glad to have them, but at this point I wouldn't go out of my way to eat them. I also haven't given up on finding a way to cook them that suits my taste preferences.

      Even if you failed to get a proper garden in this year, there's still plenty of time to plant a cover crop to feed your soil. I've said it a lot in the past and I'll say it again, a bag of bird seed works great as a cover crop, a bag of bird seed and some blackeye peas works even better.

      Or, just throw a bunch of old vegetable seeds out there and run the tiller over them to see what happens.

    3. When I made the turnip soup, I just ripped the green leafy part off the stems. There was still some bitterness, but I pureed the turnip root, leaves, and a couple of potatoes together and the result tasted good to me.

      I like your idea of using up old vegetable seed... a lot of mine is getting to be quite a few years old. I just have to get around to cleaning the carb on the tiller.

    4. I finally found the blackeyed pea, ham, and greens soup that I was pretty sure I'd seen somewhere at:

      I'm thinking about trying something like this recipe next to see how turnip greens taste cooked another way.

      I'm also thinking that if I freeze the greens before cooking them that the freezing/thawing might tenderize them so that they would cook quicker which might change the bitterness factor. I'm not entirely sure on that thought, but it won't take much to try it.

      I'd hate to think that I might get shipwrecked on an island Robinson-Crusoe-like sometime in the future with only turnips to eat without knowing how to make a tasty turnip soup beforehand, so I'm going to try a few more times to figure out the best way to eat turnips.

      The last time I had a temperamental carb on a small engine I fiddled with it over and over, still couldn't get it to start or run right, then I gave up and sprayed about half a can of carb cleaner all over and in it trying to get any hidden gunk out. After letting it dry out a little (so's it wouldn't catch fire as easily) I sprayed the rest of the can into the carb while it was running until it miraculously fixed itself. That's also probably a good way to put a hole in a piston, so I don't know if I'd let me work on any of your small engines.

    5. Man oh man, that soup looks good. I am really craving some greens in a soup now... and black-eyed peas... and ham... it's almost a virtual sensory overload... sheesh!

      I discovered that I didn't really like chunks of cooked turnip. The leaves were ok... but the chunks... the texture was just kinda... I dunno... not quite right. Watery... bitter... not real appealing. But pureed really solved that problem for me, and the extra tater or two made it creamy. Perfect with some pepper and crackers, in my opinion.

      I've had huge turnips that weren't bitter at all, and small young ones (which some say shouldn't be bitter) that were pretty bad. As I understand it, it's the calcium that makes them taste bitter.

      I used the pressure cooker when I made the soup, and that sped up the whole process. I think I got it up to pressure and cooked 5 minutes? I'll bet a person could throw black-eyed peas in there at the same time.

      I remember when I used to work at a small engine shop when I was 15... the older guy who owned the place would often dump a whole can of sea-foam in there and just let the mower run for an hour. It was a noisy way to get things running right, but once in a while it actually sorta worked. In my case, I just know the guts of that carb are all plugged with rust, and rather than curse the thing while I rip the rope out of the starter housing (like I did a few times) I just know that any tilling operation starts with a complete and thorough cleaning of the carb. Which is why my garden isn't in right now. :)

      Ahh well. I think I'll probably go a bit crazy with the garden next year, since I'm missing the whole process already...

      And I've got to learn how to live on turnips too, in case I'm stuck on an island somewhere with nothing but an immersion blender to keep me company....

    6. A big turnip being less bitter than a smaller turnip makes a little sense when I think about it, the calcium would probably be more concentrated in a smaller root making it more bitter. Now I'm going to have to try cooking a huge turnip to see how it tastes.

      Before I'm done, it looks like I'm either going to learn how to eat turnips or I'm never going to want to eat them again. I can safely say that I've never thought so hard about eating something like a carrot or a potato.

  2. I know I have eaten turnips in my past but darn if I can remember any bitterness in then. The only memory of eating the root was when my grandma used to raise them and mash them but they were a lot bigger turnips than the ones you took a photo. Perhaps the size dictates the bitterness somewhat. I have probably eaten greens on my journeys through the deep south but can't say for sure that it was turnip greens I was eating.

    My wife being Asian, loved bitter greens so she would have a field day with them. If it weren't a day down there and another one back, she would undoubtedly take you up on your offer. I've gotten used to her bitter soups and mixtures over the years so it doesn't bother me like it used too. However when choosing leftovers and it is bitter this or something else, I usually take something else.

    1. I should have mentioned it, but the turnips in the photo were between the size of a tennis ball and a baseball. The roots aren't really bitter at all, I had some leftover mashed potatoes and turnips and it sounds weird, but the next day, they seemed to taste a little better with more of a slight turnip taste.

      The greens were the bitter part and I'm starting to think it was because I didn't completely remove all of the stems from the greens. In some sort of soup, Asian or otherwise, the bitterness might add just the right amount to balance out the other flavors, like sweet and sour, or salty and sweet.

      Bitter isn't really the same as sour, so I wonder what goes with bitter in the same way that sour and sweet go together? Maybe I need to teach myself how to cook more Asian types of food that use bitter tastes, because if I find myself shipwrecked, a nice Asian-themed soup made with my turnips might be more enjoyable and less monotonous than a pot of plain cooked turnip greens.

      Turnips are so easy to grow, you could probably buy a packet of seed and grow plenty of them in a big flower pot. I've got a bunch of them growing in the grass where I cleaned out the bucket I used to make my "seed clumps", so they would probably grow almost anywhere you drop a seed.

  3. I'm not sure what pairs with bitter either but I suspect nothing. The soups they make have bitter vegetables in them namely bitter gourd (actual name) and other things only found as asian supermarkets. Having grown up on a very bland midwest diet, the first tries seemed extremely bitter to me but I suspect that if I were used to other cultural diets, the bitter might have seemed a lot more subtle. Like I said, I've gotten used to it somewhat over the years and now I hardly notice the bitterness.

    Baseball sized turnips were what my grandma used to. I remember my brother and I stealing one to play catch with!