vegetables, williamsburg cookbook

Turnip tops

What is it about being on vacation? You sleep better. You get to spend long hours reading or flipping through magazines. You go for long, chilly walks. You actually crave vegetables for lunch instead of pizza.

For me, the first three all lead to the last. Because I’m more mindful of my habits and what my body wants, because I sleep as long as I need to instead of as long as the time available, because I have the luxury of time to just be. I look less to food for immediate comfort, and so I start eating salads and soups, and in the end I feel even better.

Funny how it’s all interrelated, isn’t it?

This week, while I’m on February break, I’ve been focusing more on incorporating vegetables into every meal–it seems easier to do it while I have the time and energy to shift my eating habits. So a few days ago I tossed up a big salad with fennel and tomatoes and red onion, and boiled some turnip greens as a historical side dish.

That’s the thing about colonial vegetables (or “Garden Stuff,” as the Williamsburg author likes to put it). There’s not a whole lot that women did to alter them from their natural state. Sure, they could boil the heck out of vegetables and serve them up with a nice butter sauce, or mash up the boiled veggies with butter and cream, but they tended not to do much else. It’s a stark difference from more modern-day recipes, which ask you to saute blanched kale with chorizo and drizzle a nice honey vinaigrette over the finished product, or toss roasted cauliflower with a garlic-orange sauce. (Both are delicious, by the way.) So colonial vegetables are not that exciting, and they probably don’t maintain the nutritional value of just-picked greens (thanks to all that boiling). Certainly this has a lot to do with the foods that were widely available at the time. Most women would cook what grew in their kitchen garden, and exotic spices were hard to come by and expensive.

Still, that doesn’t mean that our boiled turnip greens have to be boring, right? It was a little tricky figuring out how to make them more palatable, but a squeeze of lemon and a dash of salt improved them tremendously. Both additions seemed historically accurate. Apparently turnip greens “are still better boiled with Bacon in the Virginia Style,” but I didn’t have any bacon on hand, and besides, that seemed to defeat the point.

Turnip Tops
(adapted from The Williamsburg Art of Cookery)

1 bunch turnip greens
1/2 lemon
a few pinches of salt, divided

Trim the stems off the turnip greens and cut into 3-inch slices. Bring a large pot of water to boil, and season with several pinches of salt. Boil the turnip greens for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain in a colander, and press down on the greens to squeeze out the remaining water. Squeeze the lemon over the greens and sprinkle with the remaining salt. Serve as a side dish with something more interesting.


4 thoughts on “Turnip tops”

  1. Yes, totally! Beet greens are amaaazing! Both cooked and raw in salads. I recently made a lasagna with beet greens instead of spinach. And I just tried an Ethopian dish with collard greens. I usually sautee them with curry powder, but the Ethopians like to stew everything, so they're boiled, then shredded, and then simmered with broth, cooked onions, fenugreek, cardamom, and Thai chillies. Oh, and lots of butter.
    I'm hungry.


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