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Turnips are root brassicas, which thrive in cold, damp climates. Their origin is probably northeastern Europe and Asia where they were consumed by people since prehistoric times. They were the staple diet of the poor during the middle ages and remained as such until the arrival of the potato from Peru.
It was determined early in the 20th century that both the turnip leaves and the root itself were an excellent livestock food, particularly for young ruminants, but farmers turned to other fodder alternatives because too much manual labor was required to produce them.
There are basically 2 types of turnips available, the small purple topped white ones and the big yellow rutabagas. In both cases they are at their best when small, young and crunchy. They tend to get cork-like in old age. Turnips are good combined with celery and carrots, in ragouts, in the broth where the corned beef is boiled, in mirepoix for braised meats; mashed with plenty of butter and mixed with mushroom duxelles, or julienne cut and stir fried with broccoli and Chinese greens. You can also try slicing, paper thin, a couple of small, raw, white turnips, heat some white wine vinegar with a bit of sugar, a pinch of salt and some thinly sliced red hot pepper, preferably of the asian varieties. Pour the vinegar mixture over the sliced turnips. This goes very well with sweet and sour roast pork.