Untitled #239

Anne Camille Jongleux

Anne Camille Jongleux
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
May 22
Recently left a career in IT project management. Trying to figure out what comes next while pursuing my interests in writing, photography, breathing, being.



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NOVEMBER 23, 2011 12:46AM

Helen and the Rutabagas

Rate: 13 Flag

   The waxy yellow-purple vegetables would sit on the shelf of the fridge for about a week every November.   “Those again?” my siblings and I always complained, pushing them aside to find something edible.  


   “It's not Thanksgiving without rutabagas,”  my grandmother would say. 


   “They're for your father.  It's a tradition.”   My mother would never have added "from who knows where," but I think she may have thought it.   My grandmother made rutabagas with turkey so my father expected them on our holiday table as well.  For years, there would be one small rutabaga diced and left to simmer on the stove while the turkey roasted.  My father or grandfather would be pressed into service to cut them.  My mother always claimed that she didn't have the strength to wield the cleaver through the rock-hard roots.  Before we sat down at the table, she would mash them.   She  always placed them in the smallest china serving bowl, set at the back of the buffet between Grandma's sweet potatoes and marshmallow mush and mincemeat pie -- all the things the kids didn't want polluting their turkey and dressing.

   But one year, my older brother,  younger sister, and I decided to try the rutabagas.  We went back for heaping seconds.  

   “Where are the rutabagas?” my father asked.  

   “Right there, near the yams”.  My mother turned to see my father holding an empty bowl.  “Who ate them?   You kids like them?” she asked incredulously. Resignedly, she said that she'd have to make more next year.   

    After that Thanksgiving, rutabagas became de rigueur  on everyone's plate next to the turkey and dressing.  If there were not significant amounts of the watery golden mash to go with leftover turkey during the holiday weekend, loud grumblings sounded throughout the house.   As my siblings and I grew up and extended our families with spouses and children, rutabagas continued to grace our thankful tables.  It was a rite of acceptance for a new partner to try the rutabagas.  Skeptical questions of “What's that?” were always answered with “Try them.  They're good.”   I'm sure at least one of my brothers-in-law might have been told that they must taste them -- or else! -- and there might even have been a few kicks under the table if someone hesitated or showed dislike of the family favorite.     

Rutabagas:  Waiting for Thursday 

    Rutabagas were not to be messed with.  As Thanksgiving meals moved from our parents home to those of my sisters, we tried different recipes.   Rutabaga slow roasted with apples and walnuts?    Too FoodNetwork.   Seasoned with ginger?  There was a small revolt and it was years before I was asked to make them again.   

    The last year my father was alive, my sisters and I offered to bring various dishes for the family feast, as we had done for years.   “I'll make the rutabagas,” my mother said.   But, as Thanksgiving Day drew closer, she started to make calls asking if we had any rutabagas.   “No, Mom, but I'll go buy some”.  

   “No.  No.   I've already tried.  There aren't any.  The produce manager at the grocery says that he'll get some in, but none yet.” 

   Mom went to the grocery several times looking for the shipment.   “I don't even know what they taste like” the grocer said, “but, they must be good if you want them so badly.  Would turnips work instead?”

   “Turnips?  Absolutely not!  Nobody in my family would think of eating turnips! Rutabagas are delicious and we always have them with turkey.  Would you call me if you get some late Wednesday?” my mother asked, handing him a piece of paper with her name and phone number.   

   But no rutabagas arrived.  For a few moments, there were skeptical looks around the table on Thanksgiving Day.  “No rutabagas?   There weren't any to buy anywhere?”  We all shook our heads and enjoyed the rest of the feast although our favorite root vegetable was not there.   

   A few weeks later, my parents walked into the store.   The produce manager spotted my mother.   “Helen!”  he called.   “Guess what?   Go to that bin over there near the cabbage and turnips.”

   “Thanksgiving is over,” my mother reminded him.  

   “Yes, I know, but I thought you might want some for Christmas.  Go look.”  he said, pointing towards vegetables.   

    My mother followed his directions.  As she approached the bin, she started to laugh and pointed excitedly to the vegetables.   “Look, honey” she said to my father.   “They have them -- just for me.”

    There, next to the turnips, parsnips, and squash, were several rutabagas.  Above them, a handwritten sign:   “HelenBagas”.   

   “They’re just for you, Helen” the grocer said with a big smile.   

   “It used to be just my husband who liked them” she said, “but now all of the kids and grandkids do too.   I'm not really sure that they should be named after me.” Smiling, Mom picked up several and put them in the shopping cart.   

   This year, I’ll bring the rutabagas to dinner at my sister’s home.  My husband will wield his favorite chef’s knife to cut them for me and he might complain a bit about how the ugly, waxy bulbs will dull the blade. I will boil them, then mash with unhealthy amounts of butter and cream. I might  print a small table card to place near the glass serving dish.  The Brits may call them swedes.  Americans may call them rutabagas.  My family calls them Helenbagas.  They are as traditional as turkey in my family and synonymous with Thanksgiving love.   























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What a beautiful story for Thanksgiving. And I'm going to try HelenBagas seasoned with ginger the next time I make them (I'm saving up my strength to be able to cut them :)
@Bert, Thanks! While they won't fly for Thanksgiving with my family, with ginger is a great way to prepare them!
I was never sure how to prepare one, but I'm going to have to try them boiled and mashed - you make it sound wonderful ;-)
What a lovely story! We always have rutabagas around our T-Day table, too. Here's my story from last Thanksgiving http://open.salon.com/blog/pbj/2010/11/14/around_the_thanksgiving_table#post_comments
Looking forward to more of your stories.
@Barb, You should try them! Once you get past cutting them, it's easy.

@Lucy, Thanks for your comments and the link -- I enjoyed reading your story. If I had pigs, I wouldn't let the rutabagas be theirs exclusively!
Sweet story. We couldn't do the holiday dinner sans the rutabagas either. Very New England thing I think. My son worked one fall on a rutabaga farm harvesting. It's the biggest grower of this root in New England here in Maine. Saddly, my son could not stand rutabagas! Rated with RRR
Great piece! It's about time rutabagas (Helenbagas) got their due! They are my favorite root vegetable, and as a mash I vastly prefer them to potatoes. I've found that the trick to cooking them is to boil them, drain them, then return them to the pan and mash them with a potato masher while the heat is still on medium-high, letting the water evaporate. Once the mash is no longer watery, then add the butter, salt, pepper and cream and a tiny bit of freshly grated nutmeg.
Heartwarming. I've never tried them, no memory of, at least. I will use your story as a recipe starter. One more vegetable on my list.
Congratulations on your three shots. Three entries three EPs. These editors--they know what they like.
a Christmas gift for my father, which one is better? http://www.newflybuy.com ...
there are a lot of products on sale. Which one is better for 48 years old mom? Handbag,glasses or biniki? Please help.
@Robin, Thanks for the R!

@ Kasia. Thanks for your comments. Rutabagas aren't to everyone's liking, but you'll never know unless you try them!

@Bellwether, Oh! Nutmeg sounds like a great addition!

@bvhrbgfgbfth ferfgtyutnytu, This is about Rutabagas, not SPAM! Go away!
Long live the root vegetable! My family is Norwegian, so - mashed, boiled, fried, raw in salads - they are part of our tradition as well. (They are called KÅLROT in Norwegian, "the orange of the North" as they have so much vitamin C.) But, as you point out, they are so hard to find in many parts of the US that I once brought one to show and tell when I was growing up in Louisiana. I had forgotten that - thanks for the memory! I hope you had a good Thanksgiving with your family.
Love this and the veg is truly delicious.
@Jennifer, I didn't know that you could eat them raw. Will have to try it sometime. What little leftovers I had went into turkey soup to thicken it.

@Algis. Thanks!
Jeez, my mom used to cook rutabagas and I thought they were perfectly disgusting when I was a kid. I bought them as an adult, however, and I like them. I boringly steamed them without anything, so it's great to get some better ideas. Nice focus for a family holiday story.
I've got a crew here "allergic" to rutabagas, so to heck with them. I'm going to inoculate them!
Lovely! We always diced them in pasties when I was a kid. They don't taste like real Michigan pasties without them.