Just before I turned six years of age, my family moved from the countryside to the “big” city. They were following my older brother and sister, who had graduated from high school and moved away from the farm to take jobs in the grocery business in town.
Mama took her first and only real job she ever held at a business about a block from where we lived. Daddy cleared out several lots behind our house and returned to raising vegetables and a few hogs. By fall, Daddy set up a produce stand in front of our house.
We always sold tomatoes at 3 pounds for $1.00. Daddy bought bananas by the stalk and would hang them from the ceiling inside the fruit stand. Eventually, the local bread route salesman started leaving us fresh loaves of bread to sell. It seems the whole family was involved in the grocery business in one way or another.
Thankfully, Daddy allowed me to stay at home throughout the summer days and watch the fruit stand. I could sit and watch cartoons while keeping an eye out through the screen door for any car that pulled up. He’d go out early in the mornings and come home with a sweat-covered shirt from working all the gardens. He’d have lunch, rest, and then when the day began to cool he’d head back out to do more.
I hated garden work. Nothing ruined a good afternoon of play more than hearing that I had to go help pull weeds or chop rows in the gardens. I was more suited for the “selling” part and I think I did pretty well. I learned to count change back and how to treat customers fairly at a very early age.
Selling produce from that stand in front of our house has given me a great admiration for the farmers, produce stands, and farmers markets all around our area. I find myself stopping at about just every stand that I see when traveling across the state – it brings back good memories.
Our recipes this month come from items purchased at the North Carolina State Farmers Market. The winter months don’t offer as much variety as the summer months, but there’s always something good to be found, like rutabagas.
I look forward to hearing your farmers market stories in the comments section below. And, if you try this mashed rutabagas recipe, be sure to come back and let me know how you like it. Ready for some fresh rutabagas? Alright then, grab a sharp knife and let’s get cooking!
What you’ll need to make the dish:
- 1-2 lbs of fresh rutabagas
- 1 tablespoon bacon grease
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
You’ll find a lot of friendly farmers at our local N.C. State Farmers Market in Raleigh. This is just one corner booth in the 30,000 square feet farmers building portion. The part I really like about shopping here is that everything sold in the Farmers Building must be grown in our state. You know you’re getting the best local produce possible throughout the year. photograph by Steve Gordon
The Linda Johnson Family Produce booth has been in their corner location for many years. They’re there throughout the year, on the hottest of days and the coldest of days, happy and willing to help their customers. My friend Barbara (left) and one of her helpers (center) helped my brother (right) and me pick out fresh vegetables on our visit during one of the last days of winter. It was pretty cold, but we enjoyed lots of great stories about the market from Barbara and talking with her about farming in general. photograph by Steve Gordon
During winter, you’ll find all kinds of greens available. These rutabagas Barbara had for sale just kind of caught my attention as something “different.” They are a cross between turnips and cabbage. photograph by Steve Gordon
Mashed Rutabagas: You’ll need these ingredients. photograph by Steve Gordon
Even if I’m going to peel them, I like to wash all my vegetables prior to using them. For the rutabagas, scrub them under some cold running water to remove any dirt that might still be hanging on to them. They are a root vegetable and are generally pretty clean when purchased, but I still like to give them a good cleaning. photograph by Steve Gordon
You’ll need a good sharp knife when working with rutabagas. One of the reasons folks don’t cook them often is because they’re a bit hard to peel. More kitchen accidents are caused by dull knives than sharp ones. Take your best sharp knife and carefully cut off the top and bottom ends. photograph by Steve Gordon
You could use a sharp paring knife to peel away the skin, or a good vegetable peeler works really well. Just use caution, take your time, and you’ll be ready to get cooking in no time. photograph by Steve Gordon
By cutting the ends off, you have a flat smooth surface to help stabilize the vegetable while you slice it. I stand mine up on end, slice it in sections, then cut those sections into cubes. photograph by Steve Gordon
Just work carefully and you’ll have them all cubed up and ready in no time. photograph by Steve Gordon
Add some cold water to a medium size sauce pot. Then, add the bacon grease. photograph by Steve Gordon
Add the salt. photograph by Steve Gordon
Add the black pepper. photograph by Steve Gordon
Add the sugar. Mama always added a little sugar to about all of her vegetable dishes. I come by it naturally. photograph by Steve Gordon
Add the diced rutabagas. You need just enough water to slightly cover them. Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a slight boil. Cover the pot, then reduce the heat to just a notch or two below medium heat. photograph by Steve Gordon
They will need to simmer about 30-45 minutes, or until fork tender. Drain off the liquid when they’re done. photograph by Steve Gordon
You could easily serve them diced with a little butter on top. photograph by Steve Gordon
For mashed rutabagas, place them in a larger bowl and chop them up a bit. photograph by Steve Gordon
Use a potato masher and mash them up really good, just like mashed potatoes. Give them a taste test to see if they need anything else. A little butter stirred in will give them added flavor. photograph by Steve Gordon
Serve warm and enjoy! photograph by Steve Gordon
Steve Gordon is a writer, recipe tester, and lover of all things Southern. You can read more of his writing and step-by-step recipes at tasteofsouthern.com. Click here to find more of his recipes.