Around the globe: Turnips

Elegant white apple-sized globes with purple tops, or lush golden roots, turnips aren’t just for admiring from afar. This garden jewel is a treasure awaiting your discovery. Besides being tasty and super-nutritious, turnips are easy to grow, and they take up minimal space in your garden. This vegetable is in the cruciferous family, along with cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.

Turnips are a root crop, meaning the dense, fleshy root is a prize in the kitchen. The green tops are also edible and nutritiousand some varieties are grown for their prolific greens alonebut that's for the next blog. This page is all about the root, the part that is savored by gourmet and amateur chefs alike.

Turnips can be sown in the early spring to late fall, as long as you allow 2 months to maturity. If you plant late in the season, turnips can be stored for winter use. Turnips, like all root veggies, do best with ample water in the beginningand they shouldn’t be allowed to dry out for long periods during the growing season. Whether grown from seeds or starter plants, they need a good drink to get established in your garden. Successive plantings each 10 days or so will provide good-sized roots to pull throughout the summer and fall.

If turnips are allowed to grow too large, they get tough and woody. So, harvest your roots when the purple or gold tops, protruding out of the soil, are 2 to 3 inches in diameter, or medium-sized. Turnips store well in the refrigerator, in the produce drawer, where they won't dry out. They can often withstand early fall frosts, making them a great late-harvest vegetable. Cool weather produces the sweetest flesh. A root cellar and some sawdust will keep your turnips always at the ready for winter recipes.

Turnips are nothing if not versatile. Simply rinse, remove the stringy roots, and trim off the skin to reveal the fully edible white interior. Include them in mashed potatoes to add additional cancer-fighting nutrients and rich flavor. Use turnips instead of cabbage to make a crunchy slaw or kraut. Raw turnips, cut in juliennes, add a wholesome and crisp addition to vegetable trays and salads. Steamed turnips topped with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice will satisfy a dieter's low-calorie goals and craving for sweet flavor.

Turnips have a mild, delicate flavor and a texture that lends itself to boiling, broiling, baking, roasting (to caramelize and sweeten the vegetable for a little bit of heaven), steaming, and cubing for adding to soups and stews. Raw, with dips like ranch dressing or hummus, turnips make a great crunchy snack or addition to appetizer assortments. For the less health conscious, turnip fries can't be beat on the flavor scales!

Low in saturated fat and cholesterol, raw or cooked turnips are a good source of vitamin C and fiber, as well as many essential minerals. With all this nutrient content and versatility in preparation, how could any garden be complete without turnips?

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