I love rutabagas.....adore them! I am literally sad when they get finished up at my house. Even my kids think they are fabulous. Curiously, most people react negatively when I mention this veggie so then I ask, "Have you tried it?" I almost always get a sheepish, "No".
What, in fact, IS a rutabaga? First off, it is an ugly little booger, but don't judge a book by its cover. This root vegetable is a relative of the turnip, originally found in Sweden and brought to England. By the late 18th century, it had (a-hem) "taken root" (giggle) in that country's culinary culture. The rutabaga is larger and mellower than a turnip and a bit sweeter; larger than a softball and hard. If you remember a while back I did a blog on gnocchi where I mentioned my strictly English/Scottish heritage. I did some light research on Scottish food and found that the rutabaga is firmly established there. They are called "neeps" in Scotland and served with "tatties" (potatoes) dished up with haggis! They are used in English cooking as well, often cooked together with carrots and mashed.
My Mom hails from the Eastern Shore, Virginia and many of the things I ate growing up were directly influenced from that area of the country. Settled by the English, the Eastern Shore is not affluent, but rich in seafood and produce, like turnip greens, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and our root vegetable of the day. I grew up eating them cubed and cooked with a good portion of salt pork. Mom's family called it "fat meat". Mom would peel and cut up the rutabaga and boil them with the fat meat until they were super tender. The pale, yellow flesh of the rutabaga would deepen in color and soften in texture as they cooked for over an hour.
When you see rutabagas in the store, they covered in a layer of wax. Rutabagas are harvested in the fall and dipped in wax to help them retain their moisture and not shrivel up so fast. You can clearly see the wax layer in this photo.