Monday, 25 January 2010

Savoring the winter roots

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Almost weekly during the winter, I dig roots for the kitchen and the barn. Posts about the process are here and here. This post will deal with the kitchen aspect of our weekly winter harvest.

In recent history roots have been considered peasant fare, since root crops keep well and are usually root cellared or preserved allowing a measure of self-reliance from stores. It was thought that purchasing food from the store was the sought after ideal. However, the pendulum has swung back to favor independence from the store these days. Food borne illness, concerns about food miles and just a general yearning for simpler times are bringing these delicious foods back to the kitchen. And most roots require medium fertility for growth making them a great choice for self-reliant gardeners.


This week my harvest included carrots, beets, parsnips, black spanish radish, rutabagas and celeriac.



I could eat rutabagas almost every day, but my family kicks a little at that, so I have to fix them in different ways to keep meals from being boring.

Sauerruben, or lacto-fermented rutabagas are a welcome change from kraut made from cabbage. My husband inherited his grandfather's 12 gallon Red Wing kraut crock and boards, but I don't fill that crock too often with kraut. It is too much at one time.

No one in his family was interested in that "old thing" so he gladly brought it home along with the weight boards and kraut cutter. The kraut cutter met a fate common to many good usable antiques though... :( One time his family was visiting and we had a function to go to. Well, long story, short, while we were gone they cooked up the idea to refinish and varnish the cutter so it would look "pretty" on the wall! Sighhh - Homer Formby strikes again. It looks good...but is not safe for food preparation any longer.

When we decided to replace it, we first checked Lehman's and they have a great kraut cutter, but it seemed expensive with shipping, and then luck would have it, we found the perfect cutter in an antique store for a little less.


Like new, I have used this for many slicing jobs.



However, I did pay a little more than the original penciled price of $2.75! The antique store where we made our purchase had bought the stock from an old hardware store. Our cutter had never been sold, we were the first ones to put cabbage to the blades!



Today, I made sauerruben with some of the rutabagas from this weeks dig. Basically just sauerkraut made with turnips or rutabagas.


Using the kraut cutter is actually easier than grating the rutabagas. But it is a two part proposition. First, I slice the rutabaga very thin.

Then I coarsely chop the rounds into rustic slices. The slices are incredibly tender, and slice easily. The whole operation to prepare enough for a half-gallon jar took about 5 minutes. Peeling and cutting of the root ends took about 5 minutes as well.


Just like sauerkraut, use a non-reactive container since you will be adding salt.



I use Celtic sea salt, and the recipe is the same as for kraut: 3 Tablespoons per 5 pounds of vegetable.



The salt will bring out the juice in the vegetable for the brine.


Pack tightly in a wide mouth jar, crock or ?? Make sure brine is covering the vegetable. Cover tightly. Some people use a plastic bag filled with water, or a small canning jar filled with water to keep the vegetable below the brine. Fermentation time depends on temperature - 70 degrees F or lower is better for fermentation.

Now on to dinner, rutabagas lend themselves well to gratin dishes. More pungent when fresh, cooking seems to moderate the flavor a bit.

Two rutabagas, and 1 celeriac bulb parboiled and layered with grated cheese, and one large onion sliced in a shallow baking dish, plus a quick Bechamel sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Pop in the oven for about an hour and you have a great vegetable side dish. If you have a favorite au gratin or scalloped potato recipe, just substitute different roots for a change of pace. And if you can bear it, cool it and reheat the next day, it is even better.

Rutabaga? If lovin' you is wrong, I don't want to be right!