There is something about a wrong label that invites us to take a second glance. It can be one of those odd names like the main character in Michael Dorris’ novel Yellow Raft on Blue Water. Her name? Rayona – captured when her birth mother glanced at the rayon zipper on the front of her nightie. It can also be a error in facts like the one in the AZ Republic that described my friend Jim Mapstead as Frank Mapstead yesterday or when a lanky bachelor farmer decided to name a rutabaga after himself but labeled it as the Gilfeather Turnip.
Until a special Slow Food Phoenix lunch with Deborah Madison debuting her recent book, Vegetable Literacy, I had never heard of a Gilfeather turnip. John Gilfeather was a Vermont farmer in the late 1800’s who became well known for growing turnips. His turnips are larger than many as they stay in the ground longer. Apparently, the slow growing variety benefits from the early Vermont frost in that it increases the sweetness while remaining tender – unlike other varieties.
Stories told after his death suggest that Gilfeather understood the principles of competitive markets. It is said that he trimmed the tops and roots from his rutabaga prior to selling them in order to prevent propagation of his variety. Thankfully someone committed root espionage and the Gilfeather turnip continues to be grown by small scale farmers across this country including John McClendon in my own backyard. At the end of October each year, Wardsboro, VT hosts a festival at which every dish served features its famous vegetable.
Why this farmer, so ahead of his time, would call a rutabaga a turnip is not known. While botanically, the edges between the two are blurry, there is little question that the Gilfeather turnip is in fact, a rutabaga.
In researching this post, I turned to Deborah’s own blog and much to my delight, she also had a post on the Gilfeather turnip but not just any Gilfeather. It is the same turnip that she’s holding in the photo above. Synchronicity at its finest.
The Gilfeather Turnip was one of the earliest additions to Slow Food’s U.S. Ark of Taste.
Gilfeather® Turnip Soup
from the Heart of New England
- ¼ lb butter
- 3 lbs Gilfeather turnips, peeled & chopped
- 4 large onions, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 8 cups unsalted chicken stock
- 1 cup half and half
- ¼ tsp nutmeg, ground
- salt and pepper to taste
- fresh spinach
Melt butter in 5 quart kettle and sauté onion and garlic until soft but not browned. Add stock and turnips and cook until tender. Drain but reserve some of the liquid. Purée mixture in food processor until smooth. Add seasonings and half and half. Mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Add reserved cooking liquid if soup is too thick. Sauté spinach in a small amount of olive oil until just wilted. Use spinach as a garnish on top of the soup before serving.
Truth be told, I have not made this soup but it is incredibly similar to the Turnip soup from Deborah’s book Greens that I blogged about some time ago. Enjoy and contemplate the naming.