Turnip or swede? Let’s settle the debate once and for all

This gorgeous Scottish dish will have you reaching again and again for a swede ... or is it turnip?

Rutabaga is the common name for a swede in North America

Rutabaga is the common name for a swede in North America

 

Turnip or swede? The debate continues. At what point in our 10,000-year food history did swedes, those large rutabagas surreptitiously acquire the name of those small tender white taproots? So once and for all, let us call it as it is: turnip equals small and delicate and white; swede equals large and rough and yellow.

Someone once told me that the Quinnsworth supermarket chain was responsible for the name change in the 1970s, but I was recently informed by a farmer that back in the 1950s swedes were called turnips, long before Pat Quinn opened his first store in Stillorgan, Co Dublin.

The word turnip is a compound of the word “turn” and “neep”, derived from Latin napus, the word for the plant. The word rutabaga, on the other hand, comes from the Swedish dialectal word rotabagge, from “root” and “bagge” (lump, bunch). Rutabaga is the common name for a swede in North America.

When I worked in Henderson’s vegetarian restaurant in Edinburgh, we served a dish called neeps and tatties. This side dish of swedes and potatoes is a traditional accompaniment for haggis. Though in Henderson’s we always served it with a vegetarian haggis made of lentils and spices.

How to make neeps and tatties

Take eight peeled potatoes and put them into a pot of lightly salted water. Bring to the boil and cook for five minutes. Strain the potatoes and return to the pot and cover to allow to dry a little.

In a separate pot, at the same time, place one peeled and chopped swede in salted water. Bring to boil and then simmer until extremely tender, then strain. Add to the potatoes. Mash everything together roughly with at least 300g of butter and season with sea salt and black pepper.

Bake at 200 degrees, uncovered, for 25 minutes, until the top is crisp. Serve with plenty of fried black pudding and maybe even a little grated smoked Gubbeen cheese.

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