Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In Praise of Rutabagas

Those who know me know that I eat my vegetables. They also know that I can’t abide the word “veggies” or any form of it. The word is “vegetable,” or, if you prefer, gemüse. The Germans have such lovely words for ordinary things.

But I digress. I eat my vegetables. They’re good and good for me. In the spring and summer we often make meals for days at a time out of whatever fresh and plentiful produce is available. It’s almost a game to figure out what is in season and what I can make of it that will be delicious and satisfying.

I’ve only met one vegetable I don’t like, and that is the rutabaga, also know at the swede, yellow turnip, or more precisely, Brassica napobrassica. Growing up somewhat middle-class in a large family, we ate plenty of things that our friends and classmates didn’t. I didn’t mind eating regular white or purple topped turnips (which are crisp and joyful) or the interminable crocks of dried beans, or even the beets, which tasted rather like dirt and stained the plate with a horrific magenta liquid. But I always drew the line at rutabagas. It seemed to be the ultimate in low-class, end of the line, no further humiliation than to have to peel a wax-covered rutabaga and boil it up for dinner. I recently described the taste to a friend as “a turnip, gone horribly wrong, having lain under the front porch for about three months, in the dirt, where the cats go to pee and the bugs can crawl on it with their dirty little feet.”

In the British Isles, prior to pumpkins being readily available (a relatively recent innovation), swedes/rutabagas were hollowed out and carved with faces to make lanterns for Halloween. Often called "jack o'lanterns", or "tumshie lanterns" in Scotland, they were the ancient symbol of a damned soul. This is the reason, I presume, why they taste so awful.

The only way I will really eat rutabagas without setting up a howl is in “Himmel und Erde.” This German dish, translated as “Heaven and Earth” is made up of root vegetables such as turnips, parsnips, potato, carrots and rutabagas. The other vegetables and the butter and seasonings conspire nicely to cover up the taste of the nasty swede. It’s a recipe that can make something nice out of something fairly unpleasant.

Those who know me also know what a stinking mess my life currently is. I’m moving out and on, and it’s scary, difficult and painful, and not always in that order. I worried about Dear Daughter, my family, my house, my financial situation, even the One I’m leaving behind. My stuff is scattered all over the city in various safe places. I’m homeless with a mortgage. I’m tired and scrambling to keep work and life together.

But through it all, the past 36 hours have been filled with grace and light. I’ve received help—monetary, emotional, spiritual and physical – from all sorts of wonderful people who have shown me their love and kindness in abundance and without hesitation. I try not to be surprised when God answers prayers, but when the blessings start pouring in so quickly and in such torrents, it’s astounding. I truly am not worthy of such loving-good friends and family.

One of the dear folks who have thrown her not-inconsiderable influence onto my side lately also sent me a Christmas card. I love Christmas cards—both sending and receiving them. This one is beautiful, but what it contained inside (along with her sweet message) really made my day. She sent this recipe for rutabaga cookies, with the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that I bake a batch. It was a good laugh, but there is a great deal of wisdom in her idea. Despite all of the chaos and sadness in my world right now, I have so much that is good—so many wonderful people who are showing me love and helping me to show love. Even through the darkness, we are surrounded by light. And Pat’s little funny, tucked inside a glittery card, is a nice reminder of how to make something sweet and good out of something that outwardly appears to be homely and sad.

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