7. Rutabagas

Let’s talk about rutabagas.

The rutabaga doesn’t have a lot going for it image-wise.  Its humble exterior is intended to protect itself from letting people find out what’s inside.  If that ever happens, stand back.  There’ll be rutabagas  bursting up from the ground in every parking strip in Seattle. Because the rutabaga is the King of the vegetables.

I should know.  I eat my weight in vegetables every month.  I love all vegetables except the slimy ones like okra and eggplant.  I am a vegetable aficionado.  That’s how I am qualified to assure you that when it comes to the rutabaga, we’re talking royalty here.

Exterior beauty is just a trap. You might never eat another crab leg if you could remember what the face and body it was once attached to looked like.  Most people think the rutabaga looks like something that should go straight to the compost bin, but wait.  Keep an open mind.

Nobody but me seems to know what  a rutabaga looks like.  Every single time I buy one at the supermarket, the checker will look at me blankly and say “What IS this?”  The next time I’m going to say ”How am I supposed to know?”  Or, “I don’t know either but whatever it is, it shouldn’t cost the 99 cents a pound you’re trying to charge me for it”, or, “It’s a peanut, you knothead.  What’s today’s price on peanuts?”

If you’ve ever seen Shakespeare’s Hamlet, you already know what a rutabaga looks like.  When Hamlet gently lifts the skull and says. “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well”,  the Prop Department had no doubt provided him with a good-sized rutabaga.

(Message to prisoners on Death Row: when they come to find out what you want for your last meal, ask for rutabagas.  By the time they figure out what they are, what they look like, where to buy them and how to cook them, the governor may have to grant you a stay of execution. . . . You’re entirely welcome.)

I’m bringing all this up because I’m going to ask a favor of you. I have a secret mission to accomplish and I could use some help..

I happen to know that, thanks to my insistence,  two of our family farmers have planted rutabagas in their gardens this year.  Daughter Susy is a senior family farmer. Susy lives in Bellevue, on the other side of the lake.  Granddaughter Elizabeth is a junior family farmer.  Elizabeth lives in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood which is only about 20 minutes from my house.  I chose Elizabeth’s garden for this mission because it’ll be easier to get there on my bike or on the bus.

I’m forced to take action because neither Susy or Elizabeth has offered to share. My plan is to covertly arrive under cover of darkness, harvest as many rutabagas as I can get in my laundry basket and then make a quick getaway.

The first problem will be logistical: Getting To The House.  Ballard is where the Scandinavians cluster in Seattle  They cling to their memories of the fjords and they like living on top of them.  Granddaughter Elizabeth and grandson-in-law Sean live on a cliff.  A person traveling there by car usually parks on an adjacent street at sea level, and then rappels up the hill. This will pose difficulties as I have an ingrained fear of heights, and I will be carrying a laundry basket.  But I also have an insatiable appetite for rutabagas.  So there you have it.  Life is full of challenges.

The second problem will be their guard dog, Lily,  As I’ll be dressed in black and wearing a nylon stocking over my head, Lily may not recognize me.  Fortunately, though, I think Lily is part Golden Retriever.  All I have to say is “I’m a burglar”, and  we’ll be best friends for life.

The final problem is that while I clearly know what a rutabaga looks like, and I know it grows underground, I’m not sure what its plant looks like.  I’ll have to be careful not to pull up any of their treasures like the prized morel mushrooms they might have been saving to enter in the Puyallup Fair or to share at their parties.   I don’t think marijuana grows underground so at least I won’t have to worry about that. To be certain, I’ll google “rutabaga” to get a look at its greenery.  Thank goodness for the internet.  It is the fountain of all wisdom.

Now, here’s where you come in.  Will you drive the getaway car?

The reason I have to ask is that I’m worried about witnesses.  If I take the #75 bus, they may recognize me. The investigating police will be sure to locate some concerned citizen who’ll spill the beans.  “Well, yes, officer,  I did see the woman with a nylon stocking over her head who looks like she’s going-on-80.  I noticed her because she was carrying a laundry basket full of the ugliest vegetables I’ve ever seen.”

Your reward for helping me out is this.  In return for being an accessory on this caper,  I will give you some of the rutabagas.  I will even give you my secret recipe on how to prepare them.

Actually, cooking them is easy. It’s cutting them up that’s tricky.  To avoid bloodshed, it helps to use an axe.  Otherwise, maybe granddaughter Gwenie can furnish you with a really effective Cutco hatchet.

Once they are cut up (think the way you’d cut potatoes to boil), put them in a good sauce pan.  Then cut up a very large onion and add it to the pot.  Add a little water, salt, pepper, tarragon, and put a lid on it (I’ve always wanted to say that).   Now start the burner.  I can’t remember how long they should cook but just stick a fork in them now and then and you’ll know.  DON’T OVERDO IT. Once cooked, pour off (and save) most of the water they were cooked in – it’s heavenly later in soups.  Or just drink it like a cocktail, I’m not kidding you.

As the final and most important step, add about a half-pound of butter or I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter and then mash them up with a potato masher or in the Cuisinart,

And then, enjoy. You will have a feast for the gods.

You can thank me later.

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7 Responses to 7. Rutabagas

  1. Lisa Marie says:

    Dear Grandma Pat:

    As your #1 daughter, I want to tell you how much I’m enjoying your laugh-out-loud-funny blog. The things I learn from reading your daily posts! But I also have to say I’m wondering why I’m not getting any lovin’. I have dogs. I work as a writer. And I know I’m the only one to have ever asked you to cook rutabagas for a birthday dinner (brainwashed way back). What does a person have to do to get mentioned around here? Oh, but hey, have a great day, Mom! Don’t worry about my feelings! Love ya! Lisa Marie

  2. Susy says:

    Dearest Mom,

    My rutabagas are plumping up in my Bellevue garden and the last time I looked Pat Ford’s name was magically tattooed to their rough exteriors. Do you own a magic wand?

    Thanks for the laugh. I love you! Please send these stories to the rest of our relatives.

    Susy

  3. Josie says:

    You could always take the 545 express to Redmond and I can meet you at the transit center with nylons over my head, a laundry basket full of rutabagas for you to take home, and maybe some coins to tape on your back so you’re ready for Church.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    This is hilarious! Unfortunately, I didn’t have a single rutabaga come up this year. I’m pretty sure I planted too early–or maybe it’s because you got to them first?! I’m glad to hear Susy had more success! I hope to do better next year–I have eaten your rutabaga recipe before and LOVE it!

  5. Denise Fortune says:

    Poor Turnip. He gets no respect.

  6. Teri says:

    I am SO relieved to find a delightful post about the much maligned rutabaga!! I come from Newfoundland, where they are a staple. Our people are a hearty lot (mostly due to the fact that we were all raised on root vegetables.)

    Here’s another delicious twist I urge you to try. Boil the veggie, strain it, mash it with too-much-butter, and ALSO add some unsweetened applesauce (if you’re making a fairly decent sized casserole dish full, I recommend using 3/4 of a jar) , and 1 slightly beaten egg. Stir well. Add lots of pepper! Put the mixture in a casserole dish and sprinkle panko breadcrumbs on top, and dot with butter. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs start to brown. I have even converted a couple of “non-rutabaga” lovers with my mother’s secret recipe!!!

    Thanks for your excellent blog! It’s a joy to read.

  7. Linda Lewis says:

    Now hopefully that extra $5 will not only go for Costco’s chocolate macs, but for a serving of rutabagas on one of our editing days.
    BTW Did you know you can camouflage parsnips 11 different ways? Dad’s retirement community has a pea patch for residents, and I was ‘lucky enough’ to be there when the residents prepared them for a special table. There was even a parsnip cake! I actually tried bits of some of the dishes and got over how Mom just put butter on them. I had never liked parsnip before. …and now I salivate for a taste of your rutabaga. Words can be powerful… Now, I’ve got to get on with my day!! I look forward to reading more in ’11!

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