Turnips have been cultivated for at least 4000 years but no one is certain where they came from; possibilities are western Asia and north eastern Europe. They like the cold British and Northern European climate though and were wonderful vegetables as they could be stored over winter They lost out in the popularity stakes when the potato began to be imported and grown but have recently undergone a rise in popularity in Britain mainly because they are cheaper than other vegetables.
   They belong to the Cruciferae family of leafy green vegetables and have similar health benefits to Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, kale and cauliflower. The Greeks and Romans developed and bred new varieties of turnips and they were valuable vegetables in the Middle Ages, when they were staples. They became known as the poor man’s vegetable throughout Europe and were fed to cattle to help fatten them and keep them over winter. In Germany during the economic blockade, the winter of 1915-16 is known as “The Turnip Winter” as the potato crop failed and so everything edible was made from turnips.
  Colonists took turnips to America, and they flourished. The wild turnip grew there as it does in Britain, Cuckoo-Pint and Jack-in-the-Pulpit are synonyms for it. In the Indian subcontinent it was cultivated for the oil from its seeds in 1500 BC.
   In Pakistan, around Lahore it is looked down on as the poor man’s vegetable and is given to animals to eat, but in Rawalpindi it is on display in vegetable shops now and sold with the greens which are used to make a different kind of saag, as they have a mild mustardy flavour.
   There is a Russian folk tale about an enormous turnip which a grandfather had planted. It grew so big that he couldn’t pull it out of the ground alone. He called his wife, who called her granddaughter, who called the dog which called the cat which called a mouse and only when they were all pulling together could they pull the turnip out of the ground.
   The Irish and Scots used to make Jack o’Lanterns out of turnips and the reasons for this are told in our pumpkin post.
   Just like other members of the Brassica family, turnips are very beneficial for our health and so are the tops, so don’t throw them away as it has been proved that they can help fight cancer. They also contain 4 times the amount of calcium than cabbage, and have a higher glucosinate content than it, kale and broccoli. The phyto-nutrients the tops contain are converted in the body to isothiocyanates (ITCs) which have cancer preventing properties. The greens can help prevent breast and prostate cancer, ovarian cancer and colon of the cancer and lungs. They also have antioxidant properties as they contain vitamins C, E, beta-carotene and manganese, as well as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin K. the green tops can also help sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis and improve our cognitive functions.
   Turnips also have the ability when crushed or cooked to deactivate an oestrogen metabolite which promotes the growth of tumours especially in breast cells. They can also help prevent cancer cells spreading in the body. Sulforaphine is a type of isothiocyanates which increases the liver’s functioning and so improves its ability to detoxify carcinogenic compounds and free radicals and other harmful substances. The lutein contained in turnips helps prevent cataracts and cardio-vascular disease. They lower the risk of becoming obese, lower blood pressure and help diabetes sufferers.
  In Pakistan if you have burning soles in winter, or when the seasons change, you peel turnips and boil them then add salt to the cooking water and use it as a foot bath. Then you make a paste with the boiled turnips and apply it to the soles of your feet. You put socks on over the paste and leave them on while your feet sweat, thus getting rid of that irritating burning sensation at least for a few days.
  Throughout the ages they have been cooked in a variety of ways, including wrapped in wild garlic or onion leaves and roasted over a fire and used in salads instead of cabbage, for coleslaw. If you use the green tops then steam them for best results. Rinse them in cold running water then chop into ½ inch pieces and leave to rest for 5 mins having squeezed some lemon juice over them to make the enzymes active. Put 2inches of water in a pan and steam the leaves for 5 mins. When they are cooked pour lemon juice and olive oil over them and some lightly fried chopped garlic. Serve as a side dish.

½ kg turnips, peeled and diced
½ kg potatoes, boiled
1 large onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic
2 sticks celery, washed and chopped
1 bay leaf, torn
olive oil
a handful of chopped parsley
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
50 gr. pumpkin seeds, husks removed and discarded
natural yoghurt or cream

Fry the garlic and the onion for 5 mins in olive oil then add the turnips, pumpkin seeds and celery and fry for a few more minutes, in a large pan.
Add the chicken stock, bay leaf and parsley and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30 mins.
Add the potatoes and grated nutmeg and heat through.
Remove the pan from the heat and blend.
Serve with a swirl of natural yoghurt and freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste.
Serve with crusty bread or rolls.
This has Taste and is a Treat.

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