Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Viscount and his Turnips.

Today, April 18th …

Charles Townshend, second Viscount, was born in Norfolk England on this day in 1665. He was a Whig politician and Secretary of State for a number of years between 1714 and 1730 until he fell out with his brother-in-law Robert Walpole over foreign policy issues, and was forced to resign. Politic’s loss was Agriculture’s gain however, and he devoted the rest of his life to improving farming methods at his family home of Raynham.

He gained his nickname of “Turnip” Townshend not from introducing the turnip to England, as is often claimed (it had been grown in a smallway for half a century), but because of his interest in and enthusiasm for the vegetable. He was an enthusiastic promoter of the relatively new idea of crop rotation in which four crops (wheat, turnips, barley and clover) were rotated annually. The advantages were huge. There was no need to have land ‘wasted’ lying fallow every few years, the nitrogen-fixing ability of the clover enriched the land, as did the increased manuring by the animals grazing the fodder crops. The real advantage of the turnips however was that they stored well and enabled animals to be over-wintered rather than all but breeding stock being slaughtered sometime in November.

Townshend’s efforts revolutionised animal husbandry, but it seems he may have been a tad boring on the subject at times, for the poet Alexander Pope said rather drily of him that “he was particularly fond of that kind of rural improvement which arises from Turnips; it was the favourite subject of his conversation.”

In France baby turnips (navets) are used in several classic dishes, and the green tops can be delicious cooked as spinach, but the English generally do not consider turnips a premium vegetable for humans. The following recipe from The cook’s and confectioner’s dictionary (Fourth edition; 1733) does seem to use them in an interesting way, although as one cant seem to get good servants nowadays, I think I’ll forgo the decorative step of cutting pieces of turnip in the shape of cocks’ combs, however pretty they may be. Note also the casual suggestion of adding a roast duck, at which point it would probably sensible to offer it to your guests as Canard au Navets.

To make Turnip Soop.
Pare your Turnips, cut them into Dice, fry them brown in Hogs Lard or clarified Butter; put to them a Quart or two of Gravy, and the Crust of a French Roll or two, boil’d and strain’d; drain your Turnips from the Fat they were fry’d in; put them together, and boil them till they become tender: You may lay a roasted Duck in the middle of your Soop. Make a rim for your Soop-dish; garnish with small dic’d Turnips, boil’d in white Broth, and a Piece of fry’d Turnip, cut in the Form of a Cocks-comb, between every Piece. Let your Bread be soaked in good Fat and Gravy, and serve it up.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Garlic Day.

Last Year on this Day …

We dined with Dickens at Delmonico’s.

Quotation for the Day …

The turnip is a capricious vegetable, which seems reluctant to show itself at its best. Waverley Root.

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