Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Heart of the Thanksgiving Meal

All hail the mighty rutabaga !!! It is a vegetable only a mother could love. And yet I trot it out of the garden each Thanksgiving and insist it find its place at the table. To ME it is more Thanksgiving than the turkey itself. I remember when I proudly brought it to the table years ago when I introduced my French friend, Genevieve, to Thanksgiving. She tasted it and said, "This is what our parents were forced to eat during the War. Why serve it at such a special meal?" Well she never understood baseball when I explained it either ... and somehow even Art Buchwald's explanation of our national holiday never really clicked.

But I digress. For some reason this year's crop of rutabaga turned out much better than in years past. Less gnarly and more uniform in size. I was pleased to discover that I am not the only one who insists on rutabaga for holiday meals. Here is an excerpt from Eyebrows McGee's Thanksgiving Day entry of a few years ago

The soundtrack of every holiday of my childhood was the sound of rutabaga being chopped. Rutabaga is crazy dense. Picture a round object about the size of an infant's head, but a lot heavier. (Some of them are adult-head size, but my knife isn't that long.) The only way to get through it is to take your longest kitchen knife, sharpen it up, drive it in the first half inch or so, then whack the tip with your rolling pin. Hard. Over and over and over. Repeat this to cut the rutabaga into 1" chunks which you then boil and mash just like potatoes. It's hard, noisy work, cutting up the rutabaga. My mother likes to do the mashed potatoes and rutabaga first thing in the morning, so she just has to heat them up before the holiday meal. And when I say first thing in the morning, I mean first thing in the morning. For twenty-seven years I have woken up on Thanksgiving morning and Christmas Eve morning at about 6 or 6:30 a.m. to the sound of a rolling pin whacking a knife through a rutabaga.

And just when you think rutabagas cannot take anymore abuse, you come upon a recipe here at the Institute for Advanced Rutabaga Studies. Perhaps the unkindest cut is the note at the end of the recipe that reads:
[Note: Mixed with gray food coloring, mashed rutabaga leftovers also serve as a reliable substitute for mortar in various masonry applications.]


El said...

How hilarious. I grow rutabagas ONLY for my mother, and she insists I make them for thanksgiving. I got out my cleaver to dispatch the things into small pieces! Luckily, she didn't want me to put horseradish in there for her like last year (and yes, I grow THAT for her, too).

Leslie said...

LOL, El. We are a tenacious breed we rutabaga insisters.

Rose said...

Although I have heard of this vegetable, though for the life of me I can't remember where, I have never seen a recipe that calls for it. Is mashing it like a potato the only way to prepare it? Must it be peeled like a potato first? Now you have me wondering all sorts of things. Guess I'll have to do some research. I'm happy to hear of this funny Thanksgiving tradition. Traditions are the most wonderful things! Hope you had a grand day.

carletongardener said...

This Thanksgiving, I bought several lovely rutabagas to use in a stuffing recipe (from November Bon Appetit magazine) that included several types of root vegetables. Well, ALL of my guests said the rutabagas would ruin it. So the purple tubers are still down at the bottom my refrigerator.

I've never tried rutabagas. They appear to be a respectable and worthy vegetable. I was glad to see your link to the Rutabaga Institute. I think I'll try their recipe - without any guests around.