My husband Marty’s a good sport. He’s my guinea pig when it comes to trying new foods. One day, I sliced up a new variety of turnip. Rather than sauté it in butter and serve it with salt and pepper, I decided to give it the naked taste test. So dipped a sliced wedge of the mystery veg into a honey-mustard dip and turned to face Marty. My hand moved toward his mouth and before he could argue or run, I put the slice-plus-dip into his mouth.
He chewed slowly, looked at me and said, “Tastes pretty good. What is it?”
“A turnip,” I said, “You just at a slice of turnip.”
“But I don’t eat turnips.”
“You do now. These are Hakurei turnips.”
In America, we are often reminded that we don’t eat enough vegetables. So for 20-plus years I’ve developed recipes, tweaked recipes and encouraged gardeners and cooks to include more veggies into recipes. This can mean employing sneaky tactics, like offering turnips that don’t bite back when you eat them.
I first learned about Hakurei turnips several years ago while reading Eliot Coleman’s “Winter Harvest Handbook.” His glowing description got me fired up to try them again since I’d pretty much sworn off growing turnips. They were too earthy and strong tasting, and frankly, I was tired of harvesting root crops, only to find at harvest time that root maggots had bored holes into them.
As Marty discovered, Hakurei turnips are crisp, like a Granny Smith apple and very sweet (a feature that farmer’s markets around the country have successfully banked on).
They can be steamed and mashed like potatoes (top with cheese), sliced for dippers and grated coarsely for replacing carrots in quick breads.
How to grow Hakurei turnips
Hakurei turnips grow well outside in raised beds or within a hoophouse. Sow seeds in rows five inches apart and thins seedlings to 2 or 3 inches apart in the row. They are hardy and mature quickly, which means you can begin sowing in late winter through fall. We’ve enjoyed them well into November, with a final sowing in September.
The turnips are best harvested young at golf-ball size, up to 2 inches in diameter. But if you let them achieve a super-size, then steam and mash them like potatoes. An excellent source of vitamin C, the roots, like I mentioned, are sweet and fruity, and the texture is crisp and tender.
To keep the root maggots at bay, I cover my turnip and radish beds with a floating row cover fabric such as Agribon. The fleecy fabric prevents the root maggot fly from laying eggs on the soil which later hatch into hungry larvae.
Here is the recipe for the honey mustard dipping sauce I used to introduce Marty to Hakurei turnips. I’ve since served slices of turnips with ranch dressing and other dips.
HONEY MUSTARD DIPPING SAUCE
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Over medium heat bring the above ingredients to a boil. Cook 1 minute and stir constantly. Makes about 1 cup. Use as a dipping sauce for carrots, turnips, apple slices and cooked shrimp and scallops.
Now I’d like to talk about gray mold; more specifically, how to prevent it.
We’ve all enjoyed a long spell of pleasant weather. But I can’t help thinking that the rains are just around the corner. And with the dampness, you can expect gray mold to appear in your garden, low tunnels and hoophouses. Prevention is your best defense. Here are a few tips to help ward off an invasion:
Gray mold is found everywhere and thrives in wet and crowded conditions. So first and foremost, provide good air circulation and adequate plant spacing.
Infection of plants usually begins at wounds. So handle plants carefully, pruning tomatoes and other indoor plants only on low humidity days.
Avoid allowing leaves to come into contact with soil. Trim tomato leaves that droop onto the soil.
Keeping foliage dry is extremely important to control this disease, thus, try to avoid overhead watering, overwatering watering late in the day. And don’t fuss around with greenhouse plants in the morning when moisture has condensed onto leaves.
Remove wilted flowers as soon as possible.
Keep the relative humidity in greenhouse or hoophouse below 85 percent and move air with fans, vents and open windows even on cloudy days.
Happy gardening, and happy turniping. Incidentally, you might wonder what the difference is between a turnip and a rutabaga. Rutabagas are a cross between turnip and cabbage.
Marion Owen’s garden is open for tours from 9am to noon on most days. Call 907-539-5009 or find her on Facebook for more information. To connect with local gardeners, visit the Kodiak Growers or the Sustainable Kodiak Facebook page. Archived copies of Marion’s columns are posted at www.kodiakdailymirror.com.