What do you get when you cross a turnip (Brassica rapa) and wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea)? A rutabaga (Brassica napobrassica) of course! While that may sound like a joke from primary school, it really is where the rutabaga comes from. In fact, once you see this marvelous root vegetable you will definitely note the similarities between it and turnips and cabbage. The root of the rutabaga looks much like a turnip except it’s has a more rounded shape and is typically larger and firmer. The taste is similar to the turnip as well, but milder, much like a cabbage. The leaves resemble that of a turnips’, but the rutabaga’s leaves are thicker and smoother, much more cabbagelike, and slightly tinted blue.
Rutabagas, sometimes called Swedes, are thought to have originated in the 1600’s as they grew wild in Scandinavia and Russia. It’s use and cultivation spread to England and France and was soon seen in many other areas of Europe. By the 1800’s this root vegetable was being grown in North America. Like turnips, they are and continue to be used for human and animal consumption. They are easily planted into existing pastures and cropland with little or no tillage, making them great for animal forage and use as a cover crop.
If you would like to plant them in your own garden the planting of them is identical to growing and caring for turnips, except for that they require a longer growing season, usually needing an additional month. Since rutabagas are a cool season crop and require a longer growing season, this makes them an excellent crop to plant in the fall. In fact, a frost or two can bring out the flavor of the root, and the leaves have no problem retaining their nutritional quality in the cold. A good rule of thumb is to plant rutabagas 100 days before your area’s average first expected frost date.
When you’re looking to harvest these rooty beauties, pick ones that have a root diameter of 3-5 inches so that they are still mild and tender, making them delicious for eating. The leaves can be eaten early on. In fact, when you go to thin your crop after first planting, don’t toss the greens. Use them in your next meal, as they make a most delicious addition to soups, salads, and sautéed dishes!
The rutabaga root is great for eating too. It can be used in any recipe that asks for root vegetables or can often be substituted in place of potatoes, to add a unique taste to your dish. It definitely has plenty of nutrition to offer that makes it worth eating. In one cup of chopped raw rutabaga, you will receive 50 calories, <1 gram of fat, 1.5 grams of protein, and 11.5 grams of carbohydrates (3.5 grams of which is dietary fiber). Rutabagas are an excellent source of Vitamin C and a good source of potassium and manganese. They also provide Vitamins E, K-1, and all the B’s (except for B-12), and the minerals calcium, copper, non-heme iron, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc.
Rutabagas have additional health benefits as well. These roots contain glucosinolates. Glucosinolates are sulfur-containing compounds, that have been shown to reduce the growth of certain cancerous tumors. Plus, rutabagas have high levels of carotenoids, which like the Vitamin C they also contain, work as antioxidants. These antioxidants also help prevent cancer cell growth by reducing the effects of free radicals.
There are so many wonderful recipes to create with rutabagas! My favorite recipes to create with these delicious roots are casseroles that can go either as a main dish or a dessert depending on what you add to them. Here is one I like to start with and then get creative adding whatever sounds good or is in the kitchen at the time.
Rutabaga Whatever Casserole
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup milk or cream
Wash and peel rutabagas
Chop rutabagas into large cubes
Place chopped rutabagas in a stock pot
Add enough cold water to cover rutabagas
Add salt to the pot
Bring to a boil
Cook until fork tender, ~15 minutes
Remove rutabagas from water and place in a large bowl
Place carrots in a food processor and process
Add carrots, butter, and milk or cream to rutabagas and mash
Now here is where the creativity comes in! To make this dish more of a dessert add things like raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, vanilla flavored ghee, butter rum or maple flavorings, or whatever sounds good to you.
For a main dish, you can add spices such as thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil, dill, fresh ground pepper, or crushed red pepper flakes. You can add chopped onions, minced garlic, or even cooked meats such as sausage or chicken. This dish can be topped with your favorite cheese too if you like.
Once you add in your extras, place the mix in a casserole dish.
Cover with aluminum foil
Preheat oven to 300°F
Bake until warmed through and the cheese is melted if added
Serve while warm and enjoy whether it’s dessert or the main course!
Rutabagas, the love child of the cabbage and turnip, with characteristics of both veggies, is s a hardy crop, with numerous nutritional offerings. Easily grown and so versatile in the kitchen, it’s a great root vegetable to grow and eat. The next time you’re looking to add to your gardening and dining selections, think rutabagas, and you won’t be disappointed.
Choose My Plate.gov. US Department of Agriculture. SuperTracker. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/tools-supertracker
Undersander, D., et al. January 1992. Departments of Agronomy and Soil Science, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and Cooperative Extension Service. University of Wisconsin-Madison. Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics. University of Minnesota. Alternative Field Crops Manual. https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/rutabaga.html