Get Back to Your Roots

Yesterday was National Pie Day and, true to my Buy Fresh Buy Local mantra, I went to Whidbey Pies in Greenbank, Washington for – what else – pie. They make very tasty fruit pies (I’ve had blackberry, loganberry and cherry but am dying to try huckleberry and marionberry). Each time I’ve been in to buy a pie, I’ve noticed the seated patrons feasting on what seems to be a very tasty lunch menu as well – so I decided to grab a bite.

The special (in honor of pie day?) was a savory pie stuffed with "Sea Man's Stew" also called as Lapkaus or Skaus (served with a delicious side of organic house salad). This traditional Norwegian fare is a meat and root vegetable stew commonly eaten by sailors throughout Northern Europe. I presume this is because it is a hearty dish chock full of winter root vegetables known for their long shelf life (sea life?). This particular version contained corned beef, cabbage, celery, carrots, potatoes and rutabagas – or were they turnips? Or parsnips? Darn it. It was some sort of light colored “root” veggie with a little more texture than a potato.

Rutabagas, turnips and parsnips are all root vegetables which means they are the underground portion of the plant – usually a tuberous root (potato) or taproot (a large single root versus the many small, branching fibrous roots as seen in lettuce and tomato plants, etc). A rutabaga (Brassica napobrassica) is a close botanical relative of the turnip (Brassica rapa). (Indeed, a rutabaga is an ancient cross between a cabbage and a turnip.) Parsnips (Pastinaca sativa), on the other hand, are more akin to (and look a lot like) carrots. All three can be served boiled, broiled, mashed, smashed…or in Lapkaus pie. All three are in season right now and all three are nutritious and delicious (and cheap!).

One serving of turnips (100 grams, about 3/4 cup cubed) has a mere 28 calories but 35% of a daily dose of vitamin C along with a healthy bit of fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, calcium, folate and more.

The same amount of parsnips (100grams, 1 cup) has 64 calories, 28% vitamin C, 20% fiber, about 1/3 of the rda of vitamin K (for blood clotting), folate, magnesium, phosphorous and other good for you stuff.

Rutabaga (100g, 2/3 cup) has 36 calories and a healthy 42% of daily Vitamin C (take that, scurvy) combined with potassium, calcium, and folate.

While the German side of my family loved their kolarabi (Brassica oleracea - another turnip/cabbage cultivar), I’ve never regularly eaten turnips, parsnips or rutabagas and decided to dig through Cook’s Illustrated to see what they said about the under-appreciated, under-the-ground-growing three.

Among the recipes for roasted root vegetables, parsnip cake (why not, they do look like carrots) and corned beef and cabbage ala rutabaga, I saw minestrone with turnips. But of course! I wrote about the virtues of turnips in Meatless Minestrone last March, so I guess it’s about time to make another pot.

I may not figure out which I had for lunch (without calling and asking) but I know I will be serving some or all three roots in upcoming lunches and dinners of my own.

Nutritional information courtesy of
Whidbey Pies:
Meatless Minestrone:

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