Still reeling from the worst drought in 50 years, many of my friends and neighbors have returned to yesteryear in order to provide enough feed for their livestock. As many of them find themselves without adequate supplies of hay for the winter months and pastures that you could play marbles on, they have planted acres upon acres of… turnips.
Fortunately, the lowly turnip doesn’t require a lot of moisture or fertility for it to sprout and survive, so the few rains we got in the early part of fall enabled their crop to grow and the local livestock are now the beneficiaries of both the foliage and the roots. Not only do the lush tops provide a flavorful (this is an assumption based on the enthusiasm with which they’re eaten) and fairly nutritious forage, but the starchy roots are also a good source of energy for the cattle as they pull them out of the ground while grazing the tops.
I, myself, am no stranger to turnips. In the family garden of my youth, mom and dad would always plant turnips in the same plot from which we harvested Irish potatoes around the middle of July. By early fall, we would always have a bumper crop of “Hoover Apples” as dad always referred to them. I was well into my teens before I asked him why he called them such.
My father explained that while the Great Depression coincided with the drought and Dust Bowl days of the late 1920s and 30s, turnips became a staple of his family’s diet because it was about the only garden vegetable they could raise in quantity and Herbert Hoover was president when the crop became so important to survival.
Even when those hard times were over, both my parents had acquired the taste for turnips and loved preparing boiled turnips lathered in butter and eaten with a healthy side of cornbread. I never developed the same affection for the purple root. In fact, I can remember the disgusting odor that accompanied the preparation of the meal. It would often drive me outside the house until they had finished cooking and excessive ventilation (leaving the door open for at least an hour) had rid the house of enough of the smell for me to return.
Unfortunately, the cooking of the turnips would only be phase one of the odorous assault. By late evening, I’d have to excuse myself once more to go check the cows, or the hogs, or the chickens, or any good excuse to get out of the house for a while. On a good night, things would usually return to normal by bedtime.
My history with the turnip led me to wonder if my neighbors are experiencing any aromatic difficulties with their cattle. Most that are simply using the turnip pasture as supplemental feed once or twice per week report no adverse effects. However, one neighbor who is backgrounding a couple hundred steers on straight turnip pasture informs me that he usually needs to wear a gas mask as he feeds them grain every morning. I can only imagine!
On a side note, my wife learned both the preparation and love of cooked turnips from my mother while she was still alive. My neighbor, across the road to the north, grows a small patch of the root crop every fall just so he can deliver Judy several meals worth. I think he does it just for his amusement of watching me sit out on the porch, bundled up in a coat, on those cold fall evenings.
Jerry Crownover farms in Lawrence County. He is a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University, and is an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’