Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tiny Turnips

March 29

Back in January at the winter (indoor) Farmers Market, Brent and Teresa of Red Tail Farm had the tiniest, greenest little turnips I had ever seen. Brent told us they had sown their hoop house with the Japanese variety, Hakurei. When the starts came in, he went out to thin the rows. He pulled the first one and turning to toss it in to the compost, he decided to see what it tasted like. The tiny white turnip, about half an inch, and tender greens, about four inches long, burst with sweetness. When he told the story at market, his eyes lit up and he pantomimed staggering backwards at the flavor of the tiny turnip, as if the surprise of the sweetness had nearly knocked him off his feet. He harvested them gingerly, bundled them in to fairy sized bunches and brought them to market. I have thought back on this story, recalling the delicious ways we ate them, raw and cooked, and contemplating the heart of the story itself.

Brent and Teresa are farmers. Their land is outside their front door: life and work are one. They are ambitious and deeply educated and always learning. They do all the work; there are no laborers and only the most elemental of industrial tools (tractor, weed whacker.) Their investment is total, their work is their intellect, their hands, their instinct. The story of the tiny Japanese Turnip was told casually, a wonderful fluke; that he happened to taste them and they happened to be amazing. But tasting that turnip at that moment, before tossing, was an act of curiosity, inquiry - what does this tiny plant, the excess of the planting, taste like?

The farmer's attentiveness, the intersection of intellect and instinct, yielded the candy sweet bunches of turnips, which in turn became nutritious meals for others. The intimacy of this interaction, I think, is what has captivated me. To know that a portion of our food, our community's food, is brought to market with this level of care and intelligence brings me a rush of hope for our food system and the survival of botanical diversity. The respect the farmer, our friend, brings his work envelops our work, our cooking for our family. Can a turnip save the world? Perhaps not. But the care and attention around said turnip, that surely can.

(regular sized Japanese Turnips can be used, just cut into quarters)

Raw Salad:
a couple bunches of baby Japanese turnips
sea salt
great olive oil

Rinse the turnips, trim root hairs and carefully half leaving greens attached to root.
Drizzle with lemon juice and and olive oil. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt. Let rest a bit and serve.

Quick Saute
a couple bunches of baby Japanese turnips
2-3 salted anchovies (well rinsed, filleted and chopped)
olive oil
red pepper flakes or a dried red pepper thinly sliced
black pepper

Rinse the turnips, trim root hairs and carefully half, leaving greens attached to root.
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add anchovies. Stir until dissolved. Turn up heat to med-high and toss in turnips and red pepper. Remove from heat when just done, for tiny turnips about a minute, larger turnips two to three minutes. Add a crank of black pepper and serve.

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