I really didn’t mean it the way it sounded.
My near daily call with my friend, George, does not have a set time, though it usually takes place in the 5 to 9 p.m. window . Such was the case last Sunday when George called while I was busy making turnip and sorrel soup in the kitchen. I put the phone on speaker for our conversation and set it out on the counter, allowing me two free hands to work.
About the turnip based soup: It was occasioned by my having accidentally pulled up several turnips while weeding to plant the last rows of the year. I noticed that the sorrel, two beds away, was in need of cutting back. It was the garden itself that dictated the ingredients, while the advent of cooler weather suggested that a hearty soup was just the way to take advantage of them.
This, for me, has indeed been the summer of the turnip. It’s really the first time I’ve enjoyed this vegetable. I started growing the sweeter smaller Japanese white turnip varieties four or five years ago, but generally focused on selling rather than eating them. Having been introduced to turnips through the strong, bitter taste of the traditional purple topped variety, I mistrusted any vegetable named turnip. But this spring my friend Steve chastised me for failing to take advantage of growing a vegetable he swore was both nutritious and delicious, and I vowed to make an effort to appreciate it.
Thanks to other friends, the effort worked. Tom explained to me that these turnips were called salad turnips, and when picked at radish size were excellent sliced raw as a sweeter, slightly less sharp version of the radish. I developed a strong taste for those eruptions of flavor. Éric made turnip and sorrel soup, a recipe he adapted from a parsnip and sorrel soup he had long been fond of. It turned out that the simple combination of sauteed onions and turnips and wilted sorrel leaves, blended with broth (see recipe below), is both filling and sprightly, waking up all those little taste buds on your tongue.
Inspired by the pleasures my friends introduced me to, I started experimenting on my own. While I really liked Madhur Jaffrey’s turnip and tomato dish, the turnip use I liked best turned out to be one I figured out myself. Cutting fairly large turnips into julienne strips on the mandolin, I used them for quick stir fries. They blended well with Chinese spices, and the firmness and slight crunchiness they retained in stir frying made them a great substitute for water chestnuts. I combined them with shrimp and other vegetables (see sample recipe below) for a great 25 minute meal. The turnip has now been fully integrated into my diet.
So there I was last Sunday chatting with George, who asked what noise he was hearing in the background. “Peeling turnips,” I said. And we chatted on for a while, with him occasionally making snarky little comments like “You do sound busy” and, when I switched to slicing the turnips and my work noises changed, “What are you doing now?” As I was winding up this stage of the prep, thinking he was impatient about my multitasking, I said “I’m on my last turnip, George.” There was something so world weary in my voice that he thought I meant I was at the end of my rope, and said “Poor you, how come?” And then he asked me if that was really an expression.
“No,” I said, “it’s not an expression, it’s a fact. I have no more turnips to slice.” We burst into laughter, as it seemed in fact a kind of perfect expression for exasperation and exhaustion. We agreed we should use it henceforth in that sense.
For now, though, I can’t yet let myself be exhausted. Fall is just beginning. As I was reminded in the turnip patch, this is an active time of preparation for the seasons to come. While weeding I observed two grasshoppers mating on a turnip leaf, the small bright green male atop the large khaki colored female. She will now deposit her fertilized eggs in the soil to be ready to hatch next spring. Now that the cool weather has come, the sheep are similarly engaged. The young ram I neglected to band has been mounting the ewes, as have his castrated cousins who will produce no offspring but feel the urge to mount now nonetheless. As Cole Porter reminded us, “According to the Kinsey report Every average man you know Much prefers his lovey-dovey to court When the temperature is low.” (It’s Too Darn Hot)
Like the critters, I too am compelled to be active in this season, and not just amorously. In the immediate term there are scads of peppers and pears to harvest and preserve, which will be succeeded by cabbages, daikon radish and pumpkins. I’ve got trees and bushes on order that I must plant, as well as the garlic that must go in now to come up in the spring. I’m about to inherit dozens of iris corms George has divided up from his garden. I have trimming to do and brush to clear and tender plants to haul inside. I must paint my still unpainted barn and stock it with a hay supply for the winter, and of course must get storm windows and doors up on the house.
Come late November, when all this is done and I have harvested the last of the fall produce, I can then collapse in an easy chair and make full and accurate use of the expression, ” I’m on my last turnip, George.”
Turnip and Sorrel Soup à la Rouleau
The proportions in this recipe (as I have adopted it from Éric) are very rough, and can be adjusted dramatically according to your taste for more emphasis on one taste or another. It’s a soup, for God’s sake, and can be different every time:
3 Tb butter
1 lb. turnips
1 1/2 sweet onions
1 large bunch sorrel
2 cups broth (vegetable or chicken)
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream to taste
Peel and thinly slice the turnips and onions. Sautee them in two tablespoons of butter in an enameled pot or dutch oven until soft but not browned. Shred the sorrel leaves, discarding stems, and in a separate pan wilt them down in the remaining butter, about 5 minutes. Add the sorrel to the turnips and onions, add the broth or water or a mix, a touch of freshly ground nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer together for a while and then blend in a blender or with an immersion blender. You can simmer down to desired thickness (or thin with water as needed). Shortly before serving, add in sour cream to taste, but don’t bring to a boil, just heat through.
Quick Stir Fry à la Scherzer
for a solo quick meal. As with the soup, the proportions and even the constituent vegetables can be varied to your taste. Zuccini and eggplant are also good candidates for inclusion.
1 Tb cumin seed
1 star anise
1 clove garlic and 1 1/2 inch cube of ginger, both minced
1 poblano pepper (or other slightly hot pepper), cored, de-seeded and julienned
1 carrot, julienned
1 scallion chopped in 1/4″ pieces
1 large or 2 medium turnips, peeled and julienned
8 peeled and deveined shrimp
1 Tb. soy sauce
1 Tb. rice vinegar
1 tsp. mirin
2 Tb. hoisin sauce
3 Tb. vegetable oil
chopped fresh coriander
In a wok, heat the oil, star anise and cumin seed over high heat. When the cumin seeds begin to pop, add the garlic and ginger and stir fry for 30 seconds, then add the shrimp and cook til done, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the shrimp to a plate, add more oil to the wok if necessary, and when hot stir fry the pepper , carrot and turnips for about two minutes. Add the soy sauce and vinegar and a couple of tablespoons of water, stir in and reduce to medium heat and cover and steam for about 8 minutes. Uncover, add the mirin and hoisin sauce and the shrimp, mix all and when heated through serve with garnish of scallion and fresh chopped coriander. Serve with rice.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK
Asian pears, $3/quart
Long Hot Portugal peppers $.50 each
Jalapeno peppers, $.50 each
Poblano peppers $1 each
Collard greens $3/bag
Fennel $1/bulb – temporarily paused for next wave
Oasis turnips, $3/lb
Rhubarb $4 a lb.
Mint $1 a bunch
Frisee lettuce, $3/bag
Sorrel, $3 a bag
CHICKENS: They were quite uniform in size, all just around 6 lbs, a few under. These freedom rangers have been what you want them to be, deeply flavorful. $6/lb, frozen.
Email us your order at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.