Turnip wars at the Potwell Inn

IMG_4815For the most part Madame and me rub along pretty well – we wouldn’t have stayed together for all these decades if we didn’t – but on some matters we do not agree. When we first married there were the garlic wars, I remember. Madame liked garlic whereas I had been nurtured on the bitter doctrine that garlic was “foreign muck” by my mother. The convergence has taken more than five decades and now we eat and grow garlic in four or five varieties and provided I don’t think about it too much and screw up my face, I’ll even eat and enoy it raw. Isn’t it interesting how different things taste once you’ve screwed your face up and decided in advance of actually tasting it that you’re not going to like it?

But turnips are not part of either of our repertoires and I can’t really understand why Madame sowed them in the first place; but she did and, predictably, they turned out to be phenomenally vigorous and have ‘blessed’ us with a crop and an argument – well, perhaps argument is too strong a word, but however I’ve tried to introduce them to the table they’ve stayed – untouched – at the side. I wrote about this problem on November 1st, or- if you want to read that post- search tags for turnips.

But I had a bit  of an experience the first time (really!) I tasted them.  I’d casually thrown one golf ball sized turnip into the steamer and when I tasted it later it was a revelation. I need to explain that in my peculiar mind, flavours are a bit like music – more especially chords in music but occasionally it’s like one unexpected note in a phrase. There’s a fundamental note – let’s say D – and then there are the others stacked around it. And it’s the ‘others’ that introduce depth and complexity to the sound.  This is all beginning to sound unbearably foodie, I know, but hang in there in case something useful comes out at the end!

So my first turnip – or as Nigella might say – ‘the first time I kissed a turnip’ the thing I noticed most was that I didn’t particularly like the fundamental note but that there were other components of the flavour that blew my socks off. You can’t really describe the ‘taste’ of the umami flavour because it functions as a catalyst for all the others, but my little steamed turnip had that quality in abundance.  Here was a prophet without honour it its own country.  Since then I’ve tried a number of ways of cooking and presenting this new flavour to the determined turnip atheist at the Inn, but nothing has worked. Boiled, steamed, sautéed and roasted have all been met with a curl of the lip and a toss of the head.

IMG_4675I just bought a copy of the Noma book on fermentation and for a brief moment I thought my turnip trials might be over but the word does not appear in the index, and so I’m on my own except for this: I Googled the question and came across a fellow obsessive on the Minitab website under the title “How Statistics Got to the Root of My Turnip Problem” . Do look it up if your relationship is beseiged with turnip haters. As for me, I’ll try lacto-fermenting the little monsters.

On the other veg that are coming off the allotment at the moment we are as one.  Carrots, parsnips, potatoes, brussels sprouts, chard, beetroot and all the other joys of winter will probably see us through for another month and then we shall have to start buying some to supplement the thin pickings during the hungry gap.  Better planning for next season is needed. I love winter veg, and I’m not one of those allotmenteers that forsakes the site in September and doesn’t reappear until March. The Potwell Inn serves food the year round.

Meanwhile at the allotment we’ve had a few days of high pressure, meaning early fog clearing to occasional sunny interludes. We were up there a couple of days ago and we were able to work until 4.15 pm in daylight. It’s happening! – although it’s getting darker in the mornings still.  By Twelfth Night the days will be stretching at both ends and with luck and a trip to the sawmill I’ll get the raised beds completely finished, along with a new composting setup.  Then, I think, a bit of an adventure in the campervan beckons.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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