My wife and I just returned from a trip to Michigan's upper peninsula. While there, I saw several eateries advertising "pasties." This was the first time I had heard of these, and after a couple of days, I decided I should check them out to see exactly what they were. I had in my mind it was some kind of a pastry, as in sweet. To my surprise, it was a savory flaky pastry pocket filled with beef and vegetables — and one of those vegetables was rutabaga.
As soon as I saw it had rutabaga in it, I had to try one. And as soon as I tried one, I knew I would have to make my own. It was also a good reminder that I needed to plant some rutabagas when I got home. Fortunately, the rain has abated so I can.
Rutabagas, sometime called swedes, are brassicas, similar to turnips, but they have a sweeter flavor, larger roots with golden flesh, purple and yellow-tinged skin, and smooth, waxy foliage. They are actually a natural cross between a turnip and a cabbage.
The roots, which are high in fiber but low in calories, can be eaten raw or cooked, similar to other root vegetables. They can be mashed, roasted, sauteed, fried, added to soups, and even eaten raw in salads or coleslaw — or, of course, cooked in a pasty. The early leafy greens are also edible and can be eaten in salads or cooked.
Rutabagas are extremely nutritious veggies. They are high in minerals including potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc, as well as vitamin C, which offers benefits to the immune system.
They also contain glucosinolates, antioxidant compounds that have been found to reduce the growth of cancer tumors in vitro. They can be a good source of protein for vegetarians as well; one medium root contains 8 percent of the recommended daily value. They can also be a useful alternative to potatoes for diabetics, as they have a lower glycemic index.
Convinced you need to add rutabagas to your fall garden? Here are some tips to help you succeed:
Since rutabagas need 10-12 weeks of growing time before the first fall frost, the first part of July is a good time to plant in Mid-Missouri. Plant them in an area that gets full sun with well-drained soil.
Before planting, you can prepare the soil with a small amount of organic fertilizer or composted manure. But note too much nitrogen can lead to poor bulb formation, so it is best to use only half as much as you would generally use or half the product's label suggests when preparing the bed, with the other half applied a few weeks later after the plants have been thinned and weeded. Rutabagas can be sensitive to boron deficiency. You can remedy this with a light sprinkling of household borax into the planting row, or you can mix borax with water and water the plants once while the rutabagas are young (about 3 pinches per plant).
Plant seed 2 inches apart and a -inch deep with rows 14-18 inches apart. Seeds should germinate in four to seven days. After germination, rutabagas should be thinned to at least 8 inches or wider. Do not crowd rutabagas or they will grow huge tops with skinny roots.
Like most garden plants, they will need 1-1 inches of water per week, either with rainwater or irrigation. Watering is most important as the roots reach maturity. Give rutabagas regular, even water so that roots grow steadily. Do not let the soil dry out. Roots that grow too slowly will be tough. Sporadic watering can cause developing roots to crack.
Rutabagas are ready for harvest 60-90 days after sowing. Lift rutabagas when they are 3-5 inches in diameter and tops are about 12 inches tall. Rutabagas can remain in the ground as long as the soil temperature does not dip below 24 degrees. If your are going to leave the roots in the ground, cover with a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch.
Rutabaga will keep in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for two to four months. Rutabaga can be diced and frozen.
Ready for some rutabaga trivia? Rutabagas were some of the earliest jack-o'-lanterns! The Irish and Scottish used to carve out root vegetables like rutabagas and turnips to make the classic scary faces. It wasn't until Irish immigrants landed in America and were introduced to pumpkins that the root vegetables were set aside for the larger and easier to carve orange fruits.
Peter Sutter is a life-long gardening enthusiast and a participant in the MU Extension's Callaway County Master Gardener program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected]