Turnips (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa) are a cool-weather crop belonging to the Brassicaceae family, closely related to broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. They thrive in moderate climates, making them well-suited for Alberta's growing seasons. The plant produces a rounded root, typically white with a purple or red hue on the top where it's exposed to sunlight. Apart from the root, turnip greens are also edible and are packed with vitamins and minerals. While many people primarily cultivate turnips for their roots, the greens provide a secondary harvest, especially in early spring and fall.
Turnips have a long history of cultivation, tracing back thousands of years in Europe and Asia. They were a staple in ancient Roman diets and have played a significant role in European agriculture for centuries. In Alberta, turnips, like many other root vegetables, were introduced by European settlers and quickly adopted because of their resilience in colder climates. Their ability to be stored for extended periods made them especially valuable in regions with long winters, like Alberta.
The culinary versatility of turnips in Alberta mirrors the broader traditions of Canadian cuisine. Turnips can be roasted to bring out their sweetness, often combined with other root vegetables like carrots and potatoes for a hearty side dish. Mashed turnips, sometimes mixed with butter and a touch of cream, provide a lighter alternative to traditional mashed potatoes. Turnip soups, blended with herbs and spices, offer warmth and comfort during colder months. The greens can be sautéed with garlic and olive oil, much like spinach or kale, for a nutrient-rich dish. In many Albertan households, pickled turnips, with their tangy and crisp profile, find their way into sandwiches or serve as a palate-cleansing side. Moreover, for those looking for a healthier snack, thin turnip slices can be baked or air-fried into chips, seasoned with a sprinkle of salt and paprika.