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Monday, November 4, 2019

Call Them What You Will

These are not rutabagas.
I’ve been told that one late fall when a boat named the ‘Rising Sun,' a boat that had been carrying a load of rutabagas, went down in Good Harbor in a particularly nasty Lake Michigan storm, rural residents near the shoreline in an area now part of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore lost no time in harvesting the beach.“We ate rutabagas all that winter,” an old-timer reported years later. Lacking variety, certainly, the meals of that lean season were nonetheless filling and nutritious. 

What you call Brassica napobrassica depends on your heritage and where you live. Those Good Harbor foragers called them rutabagas, but the poetically evocative name ‘root of scarcity’ would definitely have been apt, too, as one does not eat rutabagas all winter unless there is not much else available.

Some Finns in the Upper Peninsula call them ‘beggies’ (though I cannot find the nickname online so cannot vouch for the spelling). In the U.P. a pasty is not a pasty without cubed or grated rutabaga added to meat, potatoes, and onions (fruit at one end, for dessert, optional). These are the traditional pasties as the miners’ families brought the recipe from Cornwall. 

Agatha Christie called them mangels in one of her novels, I believe, and if memory serves, Hercule Poirot was hit in the head with one thrown over a fence. I puzzled over that term for years and now find (quickly, online) that the name is short for Mangel-Wurzel. I suppose it’s natural that a German name would transfer to England, imported no doubt by Saxon immigrants. 

Another name for the tuberous root vegetable is swede. Did Norwegians come up with that last? I’ve looked up several details today but am speculating wildly about others. Caveat lector: this blogger has never claimed to be a journalist!

Like winter squash, these large turnip relatives keep well through the winter. Thus in less desperate times, when farm families had plenty of other food put by, stockpiled rutabagas-mangels-swedes, cheap and easy to grow, could be fed to cattle or hogs to get them through the cold season. Hence the name fodder beet. 

Nor are these.

What on earth put rutabagas into my head this morning, when it’s an apple harvest occupying my time away from the bookstore? Procrastination comes in many forms. Why not the form of a rutabaga? Meanwhile, the apple-drying project proceeds in fits and starts, five trays and one day at a time. Little by little wins the race.


BB-Idaho said...

For years growing up, we visited a crusty old aunt for Thanksgiving Dinner. One of her specialties was rutabaga. I found it tastier than
squash. Aunt crusty had a kid-friendly side and treated us to red wine in a small glass, much to our parent's dismay. Since those days,
I have always pronounced the word as ruda-begga, which seemed to be
the common vernacular in N. Wisconsin. Would it not then make sense for the yuppers to call them beggies? I once went on a diet which consisted of gnawing on raw rutabaga. Lost a couple pounds, developed a craving for bacon and donuts and gained five.

BB-Idaho said...

Critical typo. Should read pronounced as ruda beggy!

P. J. Grath said...

BB, that sounds so right! Your diet adventure, on the other hand, didn't work out so well, did it? I would have bought a couple of beggies (auto-correct keeps wanting that to be veggies) at our local market for purposes of illustration and kitchen experimentation, but alas! None available! Should remember that next spring at planting time, I guess.