I was intrigued recently by an article on the turnip in The Rural CyclopediaI (Edinburgh, 1851.) It gives a recipe for bread using ‘swedes’, which is interesting in itself, but the author also makes an aside about the Maltese golden turnip, which is of ‘a fine flavour, [and] is sometimes introduced with the dessert instead of fruit.’ I mean to look further into the idea of turnips being served as fruit!
The Uses of Turnips for Human Food.
The common culinary uses of garden turnip are so universally known that they do not require to be mentioned. The bulb of the Maltese golden turnip, which has an uniform orange colour, a perfectly spherical shape, and a fine flavour, is sometimes introduced with the dessert instead of fruit. The roots of the round black, round brown, long black, long brown, small Berlin, small long white, and Maltese long white turnips, are much esteemed on the Continent for their peculiar pungency. The bulbs of almost all garden turnips, particularly such as possess a comparatively high degree of the pleasant and characteristic acrimony of the brassica family, whenever cooked in any such simple way as to be easily digestible by a feeble stomach, are eminently serviceable to persons who have a tendency to scrofula, purpura, or any similar disease of the circulating system of the skin.
During a dearth in England in 1629 and 1630, 'very good, white, lasting, and wholesome bread, was made of boiled turnips, deprived of their moisture by pressure, and then kneaded with an equal quantity of wheaten flour.' The scarcity of corn in 1693, led the poor of Essex again to have recourse to this species of bread. It could not, we are told, be distinguished by the eye from a wheaten loaf; neither did the smell much betray it, especially when cold. During the recent famine in Ireland consequent on the failure of the potato crops, Swedish turnip was much recommended for cultivation by the peasantry and the small farmers, both as a general substitute for the potato, and as a special material for making cheap bread. One of the most common recipes of the day for converting it into bread was the following: - Take 8 lb. of Swedish turnips, peeled and weighed raw; put them down to boil in a metal pot, and when boiled strain and squeeze them well in a cloth, and pound them well in the pot; when pounded, squeeze them well again in the cloth, for the more you drive the contained water out of them, the less will the bread taste of the turnip; and then take 3 lb. of home-ground wheaten whole meal, or 4 lb. of such wheaten whole meal as is commonly sold by huxters, and work it up with the prepared turnips, and proceed with the dough in the same manner as with any other griddle bread.
As to the idea of turnips at the end of the meal, in lieu of fruit, the meaning of ‘dessert’ has changed significantly since the early nineteenth century. At that time, in the dying days of service á la Française, it still referred to platters of fruit, nuts and sweetmeats – the banquetting stuffe of old, not a separate course of sweets and puddings that we now understand by the term. The following recipe would probably have been served alongside the roast, to help eke it out, as was the original Yorkshire pudding. I guess if you added sugar and raisins however, it would make a pretty fine ‘pudding’ in the modern sense.
Ruta Baga Pudding.
One and a half pints of pulped Ruta Baga, two spoonsful of wheat flour, four eggs, half pint of milk, and one table spoonful of butter. The pan greased and floured, and baked with a quick fire. - Prairie Farmer.
The Ohio Cultivator, 1853
Quotation for the Day.
‘If you could make a pudding wi' thinking o' the batter, it 'ud be easy getting dinner. ‘
George Eliot, in Adam Bede