Some deer hunters who put in Winter food plots only consider turnips as part of a mixture of growing cold-weather greens that deer like to eat. Know what? They are also very good on the dinner table. Most rural Southerners were weaned on turnip greens and corn bread, and these dishes are as tasty now as they were when they were babes in arms. Of the common green-leafy crops, turnips are the least harsh tasting, compared to collards and kale. They are an excellent and tasty leafy vegetable that will be enjoyed not only by your family, but also by your dogs. Dogs need their greens just like we do and for the same reasons.
Here is how to cook a bunch of turnips. Start with picking out good plants at the Farmers’ Market. Turnips are sold by the bunch and some twenty or so will usually be tied together with a string or rubber band. Select a bunch were the leaves are bright, green and still alive. Careful turnip sellers will have the roots of the plants in water, or be constantly spraying the leaves. It is OK if a few are starting to turn yellow on the edges, but live plants are what you are looking for. These should have their roots attached. The roots will vary in size from about 3-inches across to pencil-eraser size, depending on how closely the turnips were planted. The last batch that I purchased at the Farmers’ Market was $3.00. I was glad to have them, as I cannot grow them at that price.
Once home, put the roots in a washtub with some water and let the plants sit in the cool until you are ready to start cleaning them. Turnip cleaning and cooking is best done over about a 3-hour period. The more hands the faster the work goes, and kids can help wash the grit from the plants. Washing is a significant part of the process as turnips will likely have been dusted with insecticide multiple times during the growing season and will also have more or less sand on their roots and leaves. My mother use to wash the leaves three times in fresh water before she thought them fit for the pot. The water would be changed between each washing.
When the turnips are in a bunch, the roots are all sticking out in one direction. Usually the first thing that I do is to take each plant and cut off the roots, which I trim and place in another container of water. I later wash these separately and cut the larger roots into smaller pieces, often 1-inch or less in size. These are then put into a pot and boiled. Traditionally, that is as far as this process went.
Some fat meat, salt and a little black pepper was added to the roots and they were cooked separately from the greens. More for color than taste, some people reserved a few roots and cut them into about half-inch cubes and added them to the greens. This year I devised a slightly different dish using the roots and stems which is given below:
Turnip Roots and Stems with Deer Meat and Red Beans
3 lbs. turnip roots washed and cut into 1-inch and smaller pieces
1 lb. turnip stems stripped of leaves and cut into 2-inch lengths
1/2 cup dried dark red kidney beans
3 pounds roast from doe or a small buck
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
Clean and dice turnips and put in pressure cooker. Cut small deer roast into 1-inch and smaller cubes, salt and pepper and add to pot along with dried beans. Cover with water. Pressure cook approximately 20 minutes. Put pressure cooker in water for a quick cool-down, remove lid when safety button is down. Taste and adjust seasonings. The turnip roots will turn dark and the beans will be done, but perhaps a little firm, like in a bean salad. Serve in bowl with pot liquor on top of vegetables and accompany with corn bread, real butter and iced tea. This makes a one-pot meal that freezes well, should you want to save some for later.
I like this dish because it uses a portion of the stems which are most often thrown away and captures the nutrients stored in the biggest part of the plant.
Stemming, that is cutting or pulling the green leaves from the coarser stems and tearing them into 1-2 inch pieces, can often be done by kids who enjoy the destructive aspects of tearing something up in addition to helping their parent cook. The more they can participate in the process, the more likely they are to eat the product. The torn leaves are placed into a large bowl or pot and when the process is completed the leaves are put into the sink where sufficient water may be added to float them. Mix with the hands until the greens are well washed and transfer the drained leaves into another container. Empty wash water and wash the leaves a second time. If grit and dirt still appears in the bottom of the sink, repeat the process until no sediment is visable on the bottom of the sink.
Turnip Greens with Wild Hog Tenderloin
Very often in the South turnips are cooked with a slab of diced, salted and smoked pork fatback or streak-of-lean. This turns out to be a bit too greasy and salty for my taste, so I will often use some other pieces of leaner pork, such as from the shoulder of a wild hog or, in this case, Wild Hog Tenderloin. The tenderloin is tender, tasty, cooks fast and does not have much associated fat when it is from a wild animal. To take the place of the animal fat I added a tablespoon of margarine.
1 stuffed plastic grocery bag full of washed torn turnip leaves (about 1 1/2-pounds)
1 1/2 pounds of Wild Hog Tenderloin
1 tablespoon margarine
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
In a large pot add about 1-inch of water and bring to a boil. Add greens and while stirring allowing the greens to reduce in bulk so that you can get them all into the pot. Add additional water as the volume of greens is reduced to about one-half, but not enough to cover. When the greens have been reduced to their lowest volume add sufficient water to cover. Add cut meat and margarine and stir to keep meat from sticking to the pan. Boil until meat is fork tender. Partly drain and serve with slotted spoon. Again, corn bread, butter and iced tea are traditional accompaniments.
To see a video about these dishes go to: http://youtu.be/m3nDSJBv8dU. There are many more wild game recipes in my books “Backyard Deer Hunting: Converting deer to dinner for pennies per pound,” “Crossbow Hunting” and “X-Treme Muzzleloading” which are available as softcover and E-books. Take a look at the books at http://www.hoveysmith.com. These prize-winning books make excellent Christmas gifts for the hunter.