Turnip redux

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(Keese) The turnip, which adorned many holiday tables this week, is a source of pride in southeastern Vermont.

The Wardsboro turnip is said to be sweetest after a couple of hard frosts.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) John Gilfeather was the son of an Irish family that immigrated to Wardsboro in the 1830s. People speculate that the family brought the seeds of an unusually sweet turnip from Germany. Gilfeather grew his turnips on the farm that still bears his name.

After Gilfeather’s death in 1944, people in the West River Valley continued to keep the turnips going. Until the 1980s, the only way to get the seeds was if somebody gave them to you. They have since been registered as a Vermont heirloom variety.

Paul Dutton, a commercial produce farmer with stands in Newfane and Manchester, owns the right to sell the seeds now.

(Dutton) But I think there’s probably lots of home gardeners that collect a few seeds. I guess that’s probably okay. Why not?

(Keese) Dutton has several thousand bushels growing in his field near Route 30. He leads the way through the leafy tops, the roots practically bursting out of the soil.

(Dutton) There’s a big one, see here? Then I just whack off the roots.

(Keese) The knobby whitish globe is about the size of a cantaloupe, with twisted little rootlets at the bottom. Nobody would call it a pretty vegetable.

But Dutton says it can’t be beat when it’s mixed with mashed potatoes or served on its own with salt and butter.

(Dutton) It’s a hell of a lot better tasting than those raunchy flavored rutabagas – in my opinion, anyways. And I guess people in the Valley have sort of fallen in love with it, you know.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Wardsboro.

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