Reader Elaine Chenore of Merrillville called me last week to talk about the rhubarb patch in her yard.
During the conversation, she turned to the topic of one of her favorite root flavors: the rutabaga.
Chenore lamented to me how she believes the parsnip-like rutabaga is long overdue for some kitchen credit.
"At Easter, there's nothing like boiling rutabaga with potatoes to mash together, with some butter, a dash of salt and pepper and a splash of milk for a taste that's unmatched," she explained.
The name "rutabaga" means "Swedish turnip, and is described as a cross between the cabbage and the turnip. And while it is the large bulb roots that are prized, the leaves can be eaten as a leaf vegetable. The roots and tops are also used as winter feed for livestock or animals are also often allowed to forage the plants in the fields for food.
While the rutabaga is originally native from the Scandinavian regions, it was introduced to Britain around 1900, but even earlier records have it grown in "the royal gardens" as a favorite staple in England as early as 1669. Introduction to North America came in the early 19th century with reports of rutabaga crops in Illinois as early as 1817.
Many of the rutabagas found in the produce section of our supermarkets (usually near the bins of potatoes and onions) are grown in Canada.
I am following reader Elaine's lead and I've already secured a nice, large rutabaga to include for our family's gathering for Easter Sunday dinner.
Our family's observance of Holy Week this week takes on an extra special meaning this season.
My Uncle Hank, husband of more than 60 years to Aunt Patty, my mom Peggy's twin sister, passed away at age 84 last month on St. Patrick's Day. Life-long residents in my mom's tiny hometown of neighboring Wheatfield, Ind., Uncle Hank loved holidays and family gatherings.
I featured Aunt Patty's recipe for her oyster stew in my original "From the Farm" cookbook published in 2004. In recent years, a more creamier version of oyster stew that I've been whipping up has become her new favorite. (A few months ago, I dropped off a container of this oyster stew for her as a special surprise on Christmas morning). This week, I made a large pot of this flavorful recipe favorite as a perfect pick-me-up in the midst of this week's cold and late season snow to share with Aunt Patty, as well as with my parents.
I'm printing the recipe here today to also share with Times readers, while wishing everyone a blessed and wonderful Easter along with thoughts and prayers for the start of Passover. For meatless menus, use water substituted for chicken broth and eliminate chicken bouillon.
Phil's Easy Oyster Stew
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
Sprinkle of seasoning salt or Mrs. Dash
1 (10.5 ounce) can of cream of mushroom soup
4-5 (8 ounce) cans whole oysters, with liquid reserved
4 cups water or chicken broth
1 (1.4 ounce package) of dry vegetable soup mix
1 (14-ounce) can cream-style corn
Chicken bouillon to taste (optional)
1 to 1 1/2 cups half and half
DIRECTIONS: Saute onion and celery in butter in skillet until soft, adding seasonings and then set aside. In a large soup pot, combine the drained liquid from oysters with the cream of mushroom soup and water (or chicken broth) and bring to a simmer. Add dry vegetable soup and cook for 5 minutes, until dissolved. Add the cream-style corn and the cooked onion and celery to soup. (A little more water or broth can be added to create desired consistency). Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Add half and half to create desired taste and consistency. Lastly, add the oysters and simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve soup hot with fresh black pepper and a sprinkle of parsley flakes if desired. Makes 8 servings.