by David Cecelski
I never saw my grandmother make stewed turnips until near the end of her long life. I think she was in her 80s before we ever found a pot of stewed turnips warming on that old stove of hers. But then one day, they were there.
Creamy and sweet, stewed turnips are a wonderful, wintertime comfort food, and an old, very traditional dish. They’re popular from here on the coast all the way to the Appalachians. My grandmother made them often those last winters of her life. She told my brother that her mother used to fix them when she was a girl.
My grandmother was born in 1905 in a little community called Core Creek, which is on a salt marsh a few miles from here, so she was remembering an old, old recipe.
Here’s how my grandmother made her stewed turnips, as my brother remembers it:
First, she peeled fresh turnips and diced them into ¼-inch cubes. Then she fried out a little bacon or fatback grease in a pot. (My brother uses olive oil instead.) She added the turnips to the pot, then put in diced onion, and poured in just enough water or chicken broth to cover the turnips.
She stewed the turnips until they fell apart, though she always left a few spoon-size chunks. Finally, she seasoned them with salt and pepper, and sometimes she added a teaspoon or two of sugar if the turnips had any bitterness to them.
My brother is the one in our family who makes stewed turnips now. He likes to make them on chilly winter nights especially. They’re delicious and filling, of course, but they also remind us of our grandmother’s kitchen, and all the warmth and love that we felt there, much like they reminded her of her mother’s kitchen in that old farmhouse at Core Creek.