“I Didn’t Just Fall Off the Turnip Truck . . .”

The evening's garden pickings--a batch of lettuce and several crunchy Hakurei turnips.

The evening’s garden pickings–a batch of lettuce and several crunchy Hakurei turnips.

I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, but this is the first time that I’ve ever tried growing turnips.  Based on the Harris County Extension Planting Calendar, I planted turnips, lettuce, peas, and carrots in November, and of all of these, the turnips seem to be doing the best.

They came up thick, and I didn’t thin them, but I reckon I will be doing that as I pull up some to eat.  The tops are full and green, and cover the roots, which are basically trying to push themselves out of the ground.

I planted a hybrid turnip, called Hakurei, which I ordered online from Johnny’s Seeds.  Overall, I like this seed company and feel like I’m getting better quality and more seeds to the packet compared to what I get at the neighborhood big box stores.  Of course, with the shipping the cost is going to be more; however, Johnny’s Seeds has a fast turnaround on the order; I’ve usually gotten the seeds in my mailbox just a couple of days after I placed the order.

These Hakurei turnips are crunchy and have a mild flavor.  I also like a turnip that has a bit of a bite, so next fall, I think I’ll plant the traditional purple-top as well.

Last evening, I also picked some of the lettuce that I had planted at the same time as the turnips.  A lot of lettuce had gotten washed out with the rains in December and January, so what was left had gotten mature and stemy.  I decided to make wilted lettuce (recipe here) and try using some of the turnip tops too.  Even with the combination of flavorings of fried bacon, sugar, and vinegar, the greens were just too tough to make a good salad.

This morning I’ve been out in my little patch pulling up chickweed and caging tomato plants, some of which I grew from seed and some that came up volunteer from the compost I had tilled in last fall.  The best tomatoes I’ve ever grown are Purple Cherokees, so I ordered these and another called Green Cherokees from Johnny’s Seeds.  I’m just learning to get the plants started and then transferred into the garden.  We’ll see how well my little transplants do!

Though my three rows of turnips aren’t that long, I’ll have plenty for snacking and salads for quite a while this spring.  After they are done, in their place will go okra, which I haven’t had great luck with in the past couple of years.  But okra is really only happy in the hot summer sun, and I probably have been trying to plant them too early.

The World Keeps On Turning, But Step Back and Enjoy a Great Springtime Dish–Wilted Lettuce

Freshly made wilted lettuce, ready to be placed in the salad bowls

With the time change adding an extra hour of sunlight after I get home on work days and all the tending to yard and garden on the weekend, posting on here hasn’t been something that I’ve had much time for recently.

There have been topics, on which I might have commented:  the tragedy of the tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster in Japan, the Middle East protests and struggles, the Republican-majority legislatures in a number of states trying to take away workers’ rights and block gay rights even more, and also the sad death of  Elizabeth Taylor, whom I respected and thought of as my favorite actor, (but I did comment here in a previous post).  However, there’s a therapeutic effect that comes from working in the dirt and cutting tree limbs and grass that has seemed to assuage the necessity to voice much of my opinion on these topics.

With spring leaf lettuce abundant in the garden, I cut enough for a salad every day.  Usually, I add store-bought cucumber, tomotoes, or peppers to the daily pickings to the freshly washed green leaves, but when I have a bit more time, I like to make wilted lettuce.

We often had wilted lettuce in the spring and early summer when I was growing up on the farm.  I learned to make it “Mom’s way”, which still is quite tasty, but always the one to experiment in the kitchen, I’ve changed it, I’d never say improved it.

Wilted Lettuce

  • 1/2 slice bacon cut into 3/8 inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon finely slivered or diced onion
  • 1/4 cup red or white wine
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • leaf lettuce or fresh spinach, about a good handful or two for each person (you’ll have a better idea about the amount of lettuce needed after you’ve made this one time)

(Mom’s version uses just the lettuce, bacon, water, sugar and vinegar)

Heat a medium-sized non-still skillet, and add the bacon and onion, frying until not the pieces are cooked, but not quite crispy.  Add the wine and stir to de-glaze the skillet.  When the liquid it almost cooked away, stir in the sugar.  Add the water and let cook until the liquid is once again almost cooked away.  Then add the vinegar, and turn off the heat.

At this point, there are two choices of ways to dress the lettuce.  One way is to already have the lettuce leaves placed in a bowl (on the farm making wilted lettuce in the wooden bowl was obligatory), and then pour the hot dressing over the lettuce and toss quickly to wilt the leaves.  If the lettuce doesn’t wilt enough, strain off the liquid and reheat in the skillet and add to the lettuce a second time.

If you are making this salad for just one or two people and are not using so much lettuce, you can do the wilting right in the skillet.  Just add the greens into the hot dressing and toss right in the skillet.  I like this method the best because the lettuce gets very wilted.  Use tongs to put the lettuce into salad bowls and pour the remaining dressing over the top.