Swedish Turnip to Neep Purry
Swedish turnip doesn’t have much going for it in today’s world. Its tough and dense flesh can be unforgiving on anything but the sharpest of knives. It also takes a fairly long time to cook, so it doesn’t always seem to be well suited to a faster age. It is the country bumpkin of the vegetable world. We can’t even decide what to call it. Confusingly, the Swedish turnip is commonly called turnip in Scotland and northern England, but labelled swede in the shops. Not helpful when the true turnip is a different vegetable altogether. In the south of England it is simply called swede. In America they sensibly call it, rutabaga, which is derived from from the Swedish, where, of course, this vegetable is supposed to have originated. Despite this, it is just as delicious, and cheaper, than the ever fashionable butternut squash, or sweet potato, which can be just as laborious to prepare.
The deeply unfashionable turnip doesn’t get the respect it deserves. When it was introduced to Britain in the 18th century, it transformed British agriculture, allowing cattle to be fed cheaply over the winter months, rather than starving to death. This meant fresh meat, as opposed to salted, could be eaten all year round. Milk became more readily available throughout the year too. However, the downside of cattle being over-wintered on Swedish turnips was that it tainted their milk with a turnip flavour. You come across instructions in old cookery books on how to remove this undesirable flavour from butter. Apart from feeding cattle, it provided humans with winter fodder as well.
Swedish turnip is a delicious vegetable so we should use it more. Below are two simple ways I like to eat it. The first recipe is traditional, what used to be called in Scotland neep purry. A nice idea comes from Johnstone’s The Cook and Housewife’s Manual (1826) by way of adding a little powdered ginger to the bashed neeps. This sounds unusual but is a fantastic combination (something to try for Burn’s night). Incidentally, the other spice that goes incredibly well with bashed neeps is freshly grated nutmeg. Sometimes it is the little things that can make a huge amount of difference.
‘Mrs Dods put a little powdered ginger to her mashed turnips, which were studiously chosen of the yellow, sweet, juicy sort, for which Scotland is celebrated…which, besides, corrects the flatulent properties of this esculent.’
The second idea is for turnip roasted with cumin seed. The earthy and savoury quality of cumin seed goes so well with all sweet root vegetables of this sort. Roasting vegetables is an easy and popular way for cooking vegetables today so this method is definitely worth a try. The turnip becomes crisp on the outside, and soft and juicy on the inside. This is a simple and wonderful vegetable dish.
Take a small turnip, roughly 400g – 500g in weight and pare off the thick outer skin. Cut the turnip into small, 1cm cubed pieces. Put the turnip in a small pan and barely cover it with water. The amount of water you will need is usually the same as the weight of swede used (i.e. 400g – 500g water). Put in a good pinch of salt and 1 tsp powdered ginger. Cover with a lid and cook for 25 – 30 minutes over a medium – high heat. In this time the water should completely evaporate and the turnip will become very tender. Keep an eye on it so the turnip doesn’t dry out and burn, you can always add a little more water if you need to cook it a little longer. This method keeps all the flavour of the turnip. Finally, when all the water has evaporated and the turnip is soft, add a knob of butter and mash the turnip.
Turnip Roasted with Cumin
Take a small turnip, roughly 400g – 500g in weight and pare off the thick outer skin. Cut the turnip into small, 1cm cubed pieces. Put the turnip in a roasting tray, making sure there is plenty of space. Toss the turnip with 1 tbsp cooking oil (I use sunflower oil) and 1 tsp cumin seeds, or even ground cumin seed. Roast in a preheated 180˚C oven for 25 – 30 minutes. When it is ready sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and toss before serving.