Turnips and swedes are both members of the
cabbage family and are closely related to each other - so close that it
is not surprising that their names are often confused. For instance,
swedes are sometimes called Swedish turnips or swede-turnips and in
Scotland, where they are thought of as turnips, they are called neeps.
Nowadays, the confusion is not so acute. Many greengrocers and
supermarkets sell early or baby turnips or, better still, French turnips
- navets. Both are small and white, tinged either with green or
in the case of navets, with pink or purple. Consequently, people are
learning to tell their swedes from their turnips and also discovering
what a delicious vegetable the turnip is.
History : Turnips have been
cultivated for centuries, principally as an important livestock feed but
also for humans. Although they were not considered the food of gourmets,
they have been grown by poorer families as a useful addition to the
winter table. Swedes were known as turnip-rooted cabbages until the
1780s, when Sweden began exporting the vegetable to Britain and the
shorter name resulted.
Until recently, turnips and swedes have not
enjoyed a very high reputation among cooks in many parts of the world.
This is partly because they are perceived as cattle food and partly
because few people have taken the trouble to find acceptable ways of
cooking them. School and other institutions tend to boil and then mesh
them to a watery pulp, and for many people this is the only way they
have eaten either vegetable.
The French, in contrast, have had far more
respect for the turnip, at least. For centuries they have devised
recipes for their delicate navets, roasting them, caramelizing them in
sugar and butter or simply steaming and serving with butter. Young,
tender turnips have also been popular all over the Mediterranean region
for many years, and there are many dishes using turnips with fish,
poultry, or teamed with tomatoes, onions and spinach.
Nutrition : Both turnips and swedes
are a good source of calcium and potassium.