The Thanksgiving Rutabaga

I never realized how much my dad loved us until the Thanksgiving after he was gone and the job of peeling and deicing the rutabaga fell to me.
Rutabaga, or as my dad would pronounce it “rutabeggers” (no, I don’t think he was trying to be funny) was always a part of our Thanksgiving dinner. A key part, I might ad.
It never occurred to us that this was unusual until I, or one of my siblings, invited a guest for Thanksgiving. No one, it seemed, outside of our family ever heard of rutabaga. At first we found this curious. Then we started to figure out that it was we who were the curiosity.
For those of you (and I’m guessing this means most of you, if not all of you) unfamiliar with rutabaga, let me explain that it is a root vegetable in, as far as I know, the turnip family. My mom would mash the rutabaga with a little potato mixed in and serve it as she would mashed potatoes, orange mashed potatoes.
Gravy was optional.
The color was usually off-putting for our uninitiated guests, but those willing to try rutabaga almost always found it delicious, as did we Ackermans.
But it wasn’t until I took over the preparation that I realized what a labor of love this was on the part of my dad. Peeling and cutting a rutabaga is tantamount to, well, trying to peel and cut a bowling ball.
You think I’m kidding?
Wrestling with these bad boys is a chore like none other. The first time I attempted to cut into one I was in complete disbelief. Just trying to work a knife into the rutabaga was pretty much impossible.
“Dad actually did this?” I asked my mom, who matter-of-factly said he did, “But cursed the whole time.”
I knew why.
If someone had jumped out from behind the stove and said, “Surprise, you’re on candid camera,” I would not have been a bit surprised. I was more surprised, in fact, that someone didn’t.
Once we had the internet, I searched for possible tricks to chopping up a rutabaga. There were plenty, from softening them up first in the microwave, to boiling them first, to going at them with a chainsaw. Actually, I made that last one up, but the thought crossed my mind.
About the only useful thing I did find on the internet was that during World War I and II, in Germany and France the rutabaga was considered “a food of last resort.” During times of famine, poor people of these countries often survived on a stew made by boiling rutabaga in water. It’s said that’s why many older Germans have an unhappy memory of the vegetable.
I, on the other hand, have many happy memories of eating rutabaga. But none of preparing it.

Ed Ackerman