Swedes to the Swede

You may or may not have never heard it, but there is a silly old expression, written by some Shakespeare fellow, in a play called Hamlet. The scene is quite disturbing; Hamlet’s mother is scattering fresh flowers on Ophelia’s grave. The sweets are the flowers, and the “sweet” is the deceased Ophelia. But I am not currently channeling my English professor incarnation, so I will be brief. Hamlet stumbles upon the scene with his mother and the dead Ophelia. He immediately leaps into her grave where he wrestles with her brother, who was first to jump in in order to embrace her one last time. The impropriety of their behavior is perhaps not so remarkable in the context of the play: Hamlet has recently murdered Ophelia’s father. I have nothing quite that potent for you today.

The brassicaceae family of vegetables is, however, a pretty potent bunch, both in bitterness and, in the case of the “Swede,” both cyanophytotoxins, and beneficial phytochemicals. (Here I must give credit where it is due, to the online resource, Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rutabaga )).

Swede that I am, it is probably not surprising that I enjoy the bitter taste. Some people have two copies of the same gene that makes the Swede turnip intolerably bitter and inedible to them. But I’m a weird veggie omnivore and have been caught crunching on or sauteing red hot chili peppers (while “Under the Bridge” plays in the background) or even on a jalapeno, depending on the heat of the seeds. I find myself explaining to servers in restaurants–Indian, Thai, and Mexican–servers who are often Anglo themselves, that though I may have pale skin, I really do mean it when I ask them to make it fiery, an 8.5 to a 9.5 out of 10.

This I would not do in San Diego, much less in the company of people not accustomed to the often hyper-sensitive Anglo palate. I have a relative by marriage who eats only salsa without garlic, jalapeno, or any hot peppers. Fortunately, my Anglo palate is not hyper-sensitive, and this seems to be genetic, too. None of us enjoys dinner food without garlic, and a few of us even eat anchovies on our pizza.

Naturally my origins are not 100% Anglo. Whatever your creation narrative might be, religious or scientific, many of us agree that we all originated together somewhere at approximately (or exactly) the same time and place. So of course I’m not 100% anything other than human. My world seems to be dominated by men: If my brother, or either of my sons, were to read that last statement, they could not possibly let it go unchallenged 😉

Both rutabaga, or Swede turnip, and celeriac root, the knobby-looking vegetable in the photo foreground, must be peeled, and then roasted or boiled. Either is excellent in soup, or mashed like potatoes. Unlike potatoes, I believe that rutabaga and celeriac can safely be blended or pureed without turning grey or slimy. If any novice chef who will be cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time, is reading this, take my advice: Do not use a Mix-Master, blender, or any electronic device to mash your potatoes. Mash them with a potato masher, or whatever you have handy, and then whip them a bit with a whisk or fork if you want an even finer texture. If you are not a vegan, add a stick of butter–preferably pasture-raised, highly flavorful butter–while the potatoes are still hot. Your mashed potatoes will be a success. I am an advocate of adding salt to mashed potatoes, and of adding roasted garlic, too, but Thanksgiving purists may prefer their mashed potatoes as a simple backdrop to more flavorful dishes.

I have not given the celeriac root, hybrid relatives of the celery stalks that many Americans dice and add to their Thanksgiving bread stuffing (or dressing), my full attention because I have only cooked it once myself.

Does anyone have any recipes to share?
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