"Schlaraffenland", the German Arcadia.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


It's time to talk about rutabagas.
I'll be kind to those of you who didn't bail out after that first sentence and will try to keep this brief and informative.

Rutabagas have been on my mind since our family road trip this summer took us through Cumberland, Wisconsin. For the few of you who don't know this, Cumberland is the home of the annual Rutabaga Festival. Without the festival Cumberland would be just another dull rural Wisconsin town, but with the festival it becomes... it becomes... it becomes what? I suppose it becomes a dull rural Wisconsin town that once a year bursts into colour and life with all manner of rutabaganess. Apparently there is a 12 mile "Rutabaga Run", with some of the runners dressed as rutabagas. Apparently there is a rutabaga smoothy drinking contest (One imagines the winner is someone who actually drinks one...). Apparently there is a Grand Parade down Main Street. Apparently "The Dweebs" were going to headline a big outdoor concert. We didn't have time to stop, but it did get me thinking. What, exactly, is a rutabaga? How does it relate to the turnip? And what's with the funny name?

The mobile internet being the marvel that it is, we were no sooner installed in our hotel in Minneapolis when I had my answers. While the children became ever more crazed with anticipation for the Sponge Bob Splat-O-Sphere in the nearby Mall of America, I quietly immersed myself in rutabaga lore. First of all the name. "Rutabaga" apparently comes from the Swedish for "root bag". Now you know. Along with smorgasbord, that makes for two useful words passed on to us by the Swedes. IKEA, as a proper noun, doesn't count. Not unless we insert it deeper into the language by using adjectival expressions like, "Yeah, their apartment is totally ikean!" Or, "She has a very ikean sensibility." But I digress. The Swedish connection is strong enough that the rutabaga is called a "swede" in England and Australia. That's useful to know. Now you will no longer become alarmed when you are served "mashed swede". Or, on second thought, perhaps you still will be. In Ireland rutabagas are confusingly called turnips. Whether this is just ignorance or a linguistic quirk is unclear. Regardless, the "turnips" which were originally carved into jack o'lanterns by the Celts as a precursor to the modern Halloween pumpkins were in fact actually rutabagas. In Scotland it's also endearingly called a "neep" and is traditionally eaten with, you guessed it, haggis.

So now we know something about its name, but what about what it actually is? It turns out that the Halloween connection to the rutabaga goes even deeper because the rutabaga is a kind of Frankenstein vegetable. It is - are you ready for this? - a 17th century Bohemian cross between a cabbage and a turnip. That's right, two of childhood's most hated vegetables together in one convenient package. If horticulturists could figure out a way to further cross it with asparagus they'd achieve a trifecta of dinner table horror.

Is that enough rutabaga information? Probably. Thank you for your patience.

(The Rutabaga King and Queen)

File:Traditional Irish halloween Jack-o'-lantern.jpg

(A traditional Irish Halloween rutabaga. Way scarier than our wimpy pumpkins.)

No comments: