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Published October 21, 2009, 12:00 AM

An underrated vegetable

Don’t overlook rutabagas as a source of nutrition, tastiness.

By: Jeff Tiedeman, Grand Forks Herald

It’s always a struggle this time of year when it comes to juggling vacation, hunting and garden cleanup. Actually, the first two aren’t so difficult. In fact, it’s the kind of a dilemma I don’t mind.

But this fall, getting everything out of the garden might be a chore, especially with the cool, wet weather that’s being forecasted.

I can empathize with the farmers, many of whom still have crops left to harvest, including corn, soybeans, edible beans and beets. Some of them even have some wheat remaining to be thrashed.

I still have the usual suspects — carrots, Brussels sprouts and winter squash — awaiting me. The squash and the sprouts won’t be much of a problem, although I’ve almost suffered frostbite when dealing with the latter those years they’ve been left on the stalks until mid- to late-November — after deer hunting season.

Now, the carrots are a different story. Preferably, I like to dig mine when it’s dry and the orange dandies come out of the ground with barely a lick of dirt on them. I don’t know if that’s going to be the case this year, though.

And to compound my gardening woes, I still have a row of rutabagas — an underrated root vegetable — left in the ground. It’s the first real rutabaga crop I’ve had that’s worth digging.

This spring, Darrel Koehler, my gardening partner, and I decided to plant them, and we took care to make sure they wouldn’t be damaged by insects. And by the looks of things, we’ve succeeded. In fact, I’ve already eaten several rutabagas — the first mashed together with some potatoes (also from my garden) and the others just boiled and seasoned with a little salt and pepper, a dab of butter and some vinegar.

I’ve always been a fan of rutabagas, which makes me more excited about this year’s crop. I grew up eating my dad’s homemade vegetable beef soup (see recipe at www.grand forksherald.com/event/tag/group/Features/tag/ food/) and boiled dinners. He put rutabagas in both. Besides that, we also had them mashed occasionally.

The rutabaga is a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. It’s also known by several other names such as Swedish or yellow turnip, snadgie, tumshie and neep. Some claim the vegetable is native to Sweden, but others think it was introduced there, possibly from Finland or Siberia, in the early 17th century. From Sweden, it was brought to Scotland, and from there, it spread to the rest of the British Isles and to North America.

Nutritionally, rutabagas, like other root vegetables, are bursting with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They are rich in beta carotene, an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of magnesium, potassium and vitamin A. One cup of rutabaga contains only 50 calories, a trace of fat, 3.5 grams of fiber, 1.7 grams protein and 11.4 grams of carbohydrates.

Rutabagas are readily available in supermarkets, and because they store well, can be purchased in large quantities for winter eating. (Choose heavy, firm rutabagas with smooth, unblemished skin and no sign of wrinkling or shriveling.) You should store them like you would any other root vegetable, in a cool dark spot or in the drawer of your refrigerator. If stored between 32 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit and at near 90 percent humidity, rutabagas will keep for four to six months. They also will keep in the refrigerator for one to two months. (You also can freeze them.)

The rutabagas you purchase in the store should be peeled before cooking because they come waxed, which brings me back to my garden variety and another dilemma — to wax or not to wax.

Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at jtiedeman@gfherald.com.

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