Blog #13 – Turnips and Other Cheap Local Food

For penance, this blog is dedicated to the humble turnip. I promoted the blog as a showcase for locally grown food, and I’ve been off with bread and latkes.  So this blog is about food available in March from my CSA, which has been sending me a lot of turnips and their near cousins radishes and daikon.

Turnips are making a comeback among the unemployed. Search for turnips on the Internet, and you will soon find yourself in a community of unemployed exchanging turnip recipes.  That’s been turnip’s destiny for millennia.  Saving people from hunger.  Which must be what attracted European nobility.

Humble turnips also are on the coats of arms of several royal families, according to Wikipedia, so we may have to rethink the adjective “humble.”  In fact, turnips might better be considered a miracle food.  The turnip’s origin is lost in time, appearing in recorded literature in Greece and Rome.  Pliny in the 1st Century AD described “long turnips, flat turnips, and round turnips.”  But women gathered wild turnips while their men were stalking giant mammals when we were still hunters and gatherers.

Turnips are easy to grow and will prosper almost anywhere. They were brought to America by Jacques Cartier, who planted turnips in Canada in 1541.  A few years later, Virginia colonists planted turnips in 1609 and in Massachusetts in the 1620’s. Native Americans quickly adopted turnips from the colonists and soon grew them almost as commonly (but not as abundantly) as corn.   Both the roots and greens are nutritious and edible.

In flush times, farmers can feed their turnips to their animals, and in lean times farmers can store turnips for months and stay alive. I’m featuring a Korean dish that I have never made before.

(adapted by Brett Grohsgal from “the weird but great pickling cookbook” Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz). Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods. Katz has a web site as well. Kimchi is excellent as a spicy side dish, a snack, mixed in with with rice, in wraps, etc.  I’ve made a few minor changes in Brett’s recipe to make it easier for my family


  • 3 + tablespoons sea salt
  • 4 lbs. mixed or pure radishes and/or turnips
  • 2 carrots (nice for color and contrast)
  • 1 tablespoon ground raw horseradish (jars are in the grocery store seafood case)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh grated ginger (A pain to grate but worth it!)
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 10 cloves garlic (adjust to your taste), chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons minimum fresh chilies, dried chilies, chile flakes.  The right amount may take some experimenting.


  • Make a brine by dissolving the salt in 4 cups of water.
  • Slice the radish, turnip, and/or carrot roots, washed but not peeled, about ¼” thick. Place into a crock, steel, glass, or ceramic bowl, or gallon jar. Pour brine over the vegetables, then weight down by putting a plate directly on top of the roots, pushing down until the brine comes to the plate’s level. Let sit overnight (no refrigeration necessary).
  • Make a paste from the chopped onion, garlic, grated ginger, horseradish, and chili. Set aside for later.
  • The next day, drain brine off of the vegetables but reserve the brine in a separate container. Taste the roots: if too salty, rinse in water. If not salty enough, add sea or Kosher salt until they are to your taste.
  • Mix the vegetables thoroughly with the onion-chili-garlic paste. Tightly pack into a large glass jar or straight-sided ceramic or glass bowl, and press down until fluid rises to the surface to just cover the vegetables. If there isn’t enough of this juice, add just enough of the reserved brine. Then weight the roots down with another jar, or a tin can protected by plastic wrap.
  • Ferment in a warm kitchen for 6 or 7 days, tasting the kimchi every day but re-covering to keep the roots barely immersed. It should be and taste ripe after the 6 or 7 days, and at that point store in the fridge. Keeps 6-7 weeks for raw eating. Thereafter, it will be quite strong, and would traditionally be used in Korea for adding to soups.

I started this last weekend.  It may sound a little fussy, but the results are fantastic.  I can’t stop eating it.  The subtle infusion of flavors, ginger, garlic, onion, a bite of black pepper and the crunchy texture of  a fresh apple.  I am inspired to investigate pickling more thoroughly.

Carrots would have added color, and I will certainly use them next time.

Another unexpected turnip recipe I also recommend Chinese Turnip Cakes from Blog #6.

A small bag of Rapini also arrived from my CSA this week. Rapini looks a bit like immature broccoli but is actually related to turnips.  Rapini is a source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium, calcium, and iron.  It probably began as a wild herb in either in China or the Mediterranea and is grown everywhere today.

Rapini with Toasted Sesame Seeds and Ginger
(From  Winter Foods: Recipes and Cooking Tips from Even’ Star Organic Farm, by Brett Grohsgal and Julia Shanks.) Winter Foods: Recipes and Cooking Tips from Even’ Star Farm


  • 1 quart ziplock of rapini
  • 2 teaspoons raw sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic chopped
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon honey (optional)


  • Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet until golden brown.
  • Add sesame oil and garlic and cook until the garlic just starts to brown.
  • Add the ginger and cook for 10 seconds.
  • Add the rapini and then the mirin and say sauce.  Cook until just barely wilted.
  • Remove from the stove and taste.  If the rapini is at all bitter, add a small amount of honey and serve immediately.

This is not the end of the humble (or not so humble) turnip!

About Christopher Koch

Christopher Koch is a journalist and filmmaker who is now teaching at Montgomery Community College
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