Rutabaga, a love/hate relationship

We, as many people during this crazy pandemic year, kept to ourselves this Thanksgiving. It was the first time we were home for this holiday in about seven years. My son hosted us in Chicago for four years and twice more when he moved to LA. In between, my daughter had everyone to her place in Austin, Texas, two years ago.
Putting together this year’s meal was actually fun. We doubled-teamed everything and whipped up all of our traditional favorites. Except for one. The rutabaga.
Rutabaga is a Thanksgiving tradition in my family, but if I never again have to tackle preparing it, it will be fine with me. Fortunately, this year my sister and her husband faced the music and sent some to us. It may have been the foremost thing I was thankful for.
If you’ve never heard of rutabaga I am not surprised. I was a full grown adult when I learned that not only is rutabaga not on the Thanksgiving table in every home, but also that there are a whole lot of people who have no idea what it is.
Rutabaga is a root vegetable, kind of a cross between the cabbage and the turnip. Its flavor bears that out. In our house, rutabaga was always served mashed. It had the appearance of orange mashed potatoes.
Everyone in our family loved rutabaga, but it wasn’t until my dad passed away 26 years ago and the task of preparing the rutabaga fell to me that I finally appreciated what a commitment it was to put this dish on the table.
Rutabaga is roundish, dark purple (almost black) in color and about the size of a softball. It must be peeled and diced for cooking and that’s the problem. Cutting a rutabaga, I learned that first Thanksgiving without Dad, is tantamount to trying to cut a bowling ball.
I’m not kidding.
The first time I tackled the job I could not even work a knife into the damned thing to get started. “My God,” I said to my mom. “Dad actually did this?”
“Yes, he did,” she said matter-of-factly. “And he cursed the whole time.”
Once we had access to the internet I searched for hints on ways to peel and cut a rutabaga. None were helpful.
About the only worthwhile thing I did find on the internet is 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 it.
I, on the other hand, have only happy memories of eating rutabaga.
Especially when someone else prepares it.

Ed Ackerman