By Louise Oliver
With the passing of the Bard’s celebrations for another year, I was surprised to find more turnips in my veg box. As a lover of turnip I thought that surely this would not be a problem. Every winter it had been a welcome addition on my plate, playing best supporting role with its perfect clap shot compatriot of mashed tatties alongside the star of the show, the mighty haggis. I was annually comforted by its presence in a warming broth or stew. Yet despite many a happy times spent together, I was slightly ashamed to admit there was very little else in my repertoire for this reliable veg. The Bard’s poems, it seemed, were not the only things that I needed to brush up on….
The Swedish Turnip, although large, heavy and yellow fleshed, is a particularly laid back veg that will answer to many different names so worry not if to you it’s a neep, swede or, as Botanists know it, a ‘Brassica Rappa’.
This robust root is particularly suited to the Scottish climate where it thrives in the winter frosts and requires harvesting only when required, so no need to try and battle it out of the frozen ground as it will keep in the cold store for months. Stripping the neep of its hardy skin is eased with the use of a sharp knife and soon its mellow yellow flesh will be revealed. The neep can then be stored in the fridge for a week or so and grated raw into coleslaw or winter salads and stir-frys along the way. This really is an economical and versatile veg.
Whilst turnips don’t boast a long list of nutrients, they do contain vitamin A, K, potassium, calcium and fibre that is particularly helpful in speeding up the removal of toxins from the body, plus it is very low in calories for those who are counting! The turnip is full of taste – high in sugar – and that’s where the comforting neep really shines.
When the days are shorter and wetter, baking lifts the soul and fills the air with warmth, the Turnip the Heat cake was perfect for this. Turnip in a cake, I admit, appears a strange combination, yet during the war, vegetables were used by savvy bakers as they were bursting with health giving minerals and allowed sweet things to be baked with less sugar and fat! So no need to worry so much about the calories, this treat is perfect for those times when only cake will do. Whilst the heat of the ginger excites the taste buds, the flesh of the turnip adds a hit of sugary sweetness and I guarantee even the most ‘neep-phobic’ of folk will be converted with a slice of turnip and a cup of tea. So try sharing this cake with family, friends and neighbours and see if they can guess the hidden veg. The turnip also adds great moistness to the bake, allowing any left overs to store well.
Taking inspiration from the neeps success in a broth, I paired it with barley in a turnip barlotto and added grated nutmeg and salty cheese for a delicious, giant turnip hug in a bowl. And like other members of the cabbage family (the neep is actually the swollen stem base of a cabbage) it pairs well with bacon too in this turnip and tattie smoked hash dish, where parsley and smoked fish are also tasty combinations.
The turnip requires no fashionable superfood status: it’s cheap, substantial and suited to the climate. This versatile winter comfort comes round every year – and therein lies its beauty, it will give you a warm, soothing hug each winter regardless of trends, but why wait another year when they can offer so much comfort right now?