Friday, May 29, 2020

Give Rutabagas a Try!

Give Rutabagas a Try! 

By Yvette Henson, San Miguel Basin, CSU Extension 

The first time I ever saw rutabaga plants growing in a garden was at an historic ranch above 9,000’ near Telluride. I thought the blue-gray leaves were so beautiful and I’ve wanted to grow them ever since!

This year my doctor asked me to do an elimination diet to determine foods that cause inflammatory reactions in my body. Potatoes are on the list of inflammatory foods that I needed to eliminate so that is when I re-introduced rutabagas as a more regular part of my diet, as a potato substitute. My favorite ways to prepare them have been mashed with butter, fresh chives and dairy free yogurt, which cuts the sweetness a little. They are also good roasted and in beef stew. They are very nutritious!

Photo credit: Botanists in the Kitchen

What most of us in the states refer to as rutabagas, are also called “swedes” in Europe, “neeps” in Scotland, and “snaggers” or “narkies” by the northern Brits. It is also known as “Swedish turnip” or “yellow turnip.” The word rutabaga comes from the Swedish word “rotabagge” which means “round root.” They are more related to Siberian kale and canola than to turnips. 

It has long been believed that B. napus are a naturally occurring cross between B. rapa (turnips, etc.) and B. oleraceae (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and other cruciferous vegetables). Recent research, led by Missouri State University, discovered that the genetic history of these brassicas is much more complicated and that B. napus has one of the most complex genomes of all flowering plants. For an interesting read on the history and relationship between turnips and rutabagas go to

Rutabagas are an easy and nutritious food crop to grow in mountain communities with cool summers. They are a good storage crop and you can also eat the greens. Depending on the length of your growing season, direct seed them in your garden anytime between mid-May and the beginning of July, in deeply cultivated, well-drained, fertile soil. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. 

Roots harvested in the fall rather than late summer should have better-tasting roots but be sure to harvest them all before a hard freeze. They are supposedly even better tasting after having been stored for a while. Someone told me the other day that their family would store their rutabagas, and bring them out for special dinners. 

American Purple Top, Photo credit: Ferry Morse Seed

Some rutabagas have purple shoulders, and some have green shoulders. Some have yellow flesh, and some have white flesh. This year is my first time to grow them and the varieties that I am trying are American Purple Top, Macomber and Nadmorska. 

American Purple Top is a standard rutabaga, with large dark-yellow, sweet roots that store well, 90 days to maturity. Macomber has white flesh with either green or purple shoulders and skin that is smooth and easily cleaned, 100 days to maturity. Nadmorska has yellow flesh and green shoulders, mild flavor and stores well, 85-100 days to maturity.
'Nadmorska' rutabagas. Photo courtesy of Siskyou Seeds.
Rutabagas have not been one of the most preferred vegetables, but I am 'rooting' for their comeback!

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