The Profundity of Turnips

I've been a bad blogger. Would it help to know I've finished another book in the meantime? Not really? Okay, how about if I show you a pretty picture. This is from 5:30 am today. Can we be friends again now? 

What a glorious spring we've had! That cold, snowy thing called winter is but a distant memory. In fact, I'm sorry I brought it up. I planted the earliest of my crops about a month ago: radishes, spinach, arugula, peas, chard, beets, kale, more kale, and turnips. I don't know why I planted turnips. I can never get them to germinate, much less grow. I've had a vegetable garden nearly every year since I was twenty, and I don't recall ever having a decent crop of turnips. Or even one turnip. But, inexplicably, I had some seeds from last year's vain attempt at turnip propagation, so I planted a small bed of them.

It's not that I adore turnips, but I seek variety in my gardening. I once grew a gorgeous crop of okra that I gave away because I discovered I couldn't get over the slime. (I now know you can cook past that, but this was in my youth. Wise Old Sonja knows better.) I like to grow a little bit of this, a little bit of that, or, preferably, a lot of this and a lot of that. It interests me, both as a gardener and as a food wrangler. 

So I planted the turnips and, big surprise, nothing happened. The peas were slow, too. But the radishes and arugula were speedy!

I convinced myself I had made a mistake in the turnip department. Perhaps I had covered them with too much soil. Perhaps, in a white matter whiteout, I had neglected to plant them at all! So I sowed another bed. And waited. 

Guess what?! The first batch came up. They sprouted! They grew! They thrived! Two weeks later, the second batch sprouted and grew and thrived. It was full-on turnip madness. 

Those beauties closest to the camera are the turnips. Behind them are more turnips, the first batch that I'd already partially harvested. Behind that are the beets (oh faithful beets) and the chard (oh lovely reliable chard).

Aren't they pretty? 

I'm certain you are asking what I made with all those turnips, and if I perhaps regretted that second bed. Not for one moment. They are delicious. First, the greens, especially from the thinnings, are versatile and extremely nutritious. I saute them with garlic or shallots, hit them with a little red pepper flakes and a squeeze of lemon, and serve them on crostini, or over pasta or with eggs. 

And what about the turnips themselves? These fresh garden lovelies are not bitter. I've diced and caramelized them, added chopped kale and mixed with pasta and lots of Parmesan.  Heaven. I've sauteed sliced turnips and leeks in olive oil as a base for a savory tart. Gruyere and lemon thyme are great choices for this dish. And I created a pureed turnip and carrot soup, with a sauteed turnip green garnish which I served with grilled cheese sandwiches on homemade bread. 

Yes, you can come over. Please bring wine.

The other spring surprise in my garden was the cilantro that popped up on its own. I rarely can get my favorite herb to germinate, and here it was growing all by itself from the plants I let go to seed last fall. (If you grow cilantro and have never allowed it to set seed, you are missing something. The seeds, especially when green, are tiny flavor bombs. This is coriander seed, natch.)

This year it's turnips and cilantro, another year it's a bumper crop of butternut squash and I can't grow a zucchini (a zucchini!) to save my life. Most of the things I grow do just fine, but gardening is always a bit of a crap shoot. You can't control everything, certainly not the weather and definitely not the deer.

There is little room for despair in gardening. You try, you learn, you live to garden another year. There is no fail. But there are successes, if you place a smidgen of hope in a tiny seed.

Now, my friends, I'm sure you are expecting me to draw the circle closed and suggest that writing, if not LIFE, may be a little (or a lot) like the story of the turnips. Some things grow, some things don't. Some of it is down to us but much of it is just the breaks. A open packet of seeds is an invitation to hope that if we try again, this time it just might work. 

If I were to draw that comparison, it might be trite. It also might be true.