The swede turnip is the ordinary kind of turnip, but called swede turnip to distinguish it from the smaller white turnips. The latter is a summer vegetable while the purple-topped swede is quintessential winter fare. It probably would not even taste right in warm weather; it is sweeter to taster after frost.
A member of the cabbage family, the swede turnip actually originated in Sweden, where it is known as ‘rutabaga' in the seventeenth century and it is still a cool climate vegetable. It is easy to grow but not grown that much in gardens. It is a bulky vegetable and widely grown as an extensive field crop, so most gardeners do not bother, simply buying their swedes, quite cheaply, in the supermarket. The other reason that the swede turnip is not grown much in gardens is that it is late sown. Most people who grow vegetables sow the seeds in one lot in spring, but swede turnips are better sown a little later in May or June even.
If they are sown too early, they tend to become mildewed and not form the swollen root so well and there is a danger of bolting too. A few swedes are worth growing because they provide fresh produce in winter and they are not much trouble.
Cooking Swede Turnips
The swede is quite a versatile vegetable. It can be eaten raw in slices or grated, and it has a nice crunchy texture with a mixture of sweetness and a slight peppery taste. Typically, it is boiled and served as sliced turnip or mashed. But is can also be used in stews and casseroles, or stir-fried. It has great ability to absorb flavours and is used with a variety of herbs and spices, such as coriander, parsley, pepper and nutmeg, in various countries. The leaves can be used as for cabbage. Swedes are a good source of fibre and a reasonable source of calcium and vitamins A and C.
Growing Swede Turnips
Choose a sunny spot on well-drained, fertile, but not overly rich soil, or an area that has received organic manure in the past year - this gives a strong, earthy flavour. They need lime in the soil, like most vegetables, and acid soil should be limed to bring it to the limy side of neutral.
Seeds of swede turnips are sown in May in cooler areas and the northern half of the country, in June elsewhere. The seeds are sown directly where the plants are to mature; they cannot be transplanted, unless perhaps in cell blocks. Sow the seeds in groups of six or eight about fifteen centimetres apart in rows about fifty centimetres apart.
When the seedlings have one or two true leaves, thin out the seedlings by half their number at each station along the row. About three weeks later, reduce this to own plant at each station and a few weeks later, remove the plant from every second station. Leaving in the extra stations is insurance against loss at some stations, which can occur, due to pests or seedling blindness. The leaves of the plants removed can be cooked as cabbage.
Keep weeds under control at least until the turnip leaves cover the soil, after that they are able to compete quite well. Water the little seedlings during any dry spell in the weeks after they emerge; they tend to start of form a root too early if they get a setback from drought.
Harvesting and storage
Swede turnips can be used when they are big enough but do not develop flavour until cool autumn days arrive. They can be left in the ground and used as necessary or they can be lifted in autumn and stored in a cool place, not too dry.