About this Blog

As I go into my second year blogging about cooking and eating locally, I am thinking more and more about my own heritage. Why is cooking and eating locally sourced food important to me? What values am I honoring by doing this and how were these values instilled in me.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dig into Your Roots!

Some of the most frequently asked questions regarding eating locally grown foods are:  What's available and when, and can you get enough nutrients eating only produced within your region.

I live in northeastern Massachusetts about 15 minutes from the southern New Hampshire border and approximately 30 miles northwest of Boston. We can get snow as early as mid-October and have experienced blizzard conditions as late as April 1st. As I write this today, the first day of spring, it is snowing outside. Our growing season is far more limited than in southern areas of the United States and California, so while vegetables like kale grow through December and peas can be planted while snow still covers the ground in March, many of the vegetables you find being spritzed in the produce section of your average supermarket don’t grow here during the winter months.

And yet, there are a variety of possibilities for winter eating...especially if you enjoy root vegetables like I do.

We joined a winter CSA program this year at the same farm where we enjoyed our spring, summer and fall vegetables. I was excited to continue my adventures eating locally, but I had some questions as well. What would we get and would it be enough to keep things interesting as well as provide a balanced diet.

The winter offering has been a well balanced combination of cuts of meat from animals that have been raised by our farmer as well as squash, beets, garlic, onions, potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, parsnips, apples, honey, maple syrup, local artisan cheeses and eggs.

In winter, while snow piles up outside and the temperatures dip down into the teens, I like to keep the house warm and filled with comforting aromas by cooking lots of warming soups and stews or slow roasting larger cuts of meat and/or vegetables. So, our farm offerings have fulfilled my hopes for the season.

However, each time I pass the produce section at my local Whole Foods market on my way to the bulk food aisle to stock up on grains, beans and nuts, I question whether my choice to exclusively eat local produce is adversely impacting our overall health. Shouldn’t I grab a couple of oranges and a head of broccoli just in case?

So, I decided to do a little research.

In order to keep the investigation manageable, I decided to focus on one vegetable, the rutabaga, and one nutrient, Vitamin C. I chose the rutabaga since it was not as familiar to me as a carrot or a beet and I chose Vitamin C since it is believed to be so vital to a healthy immune system.

In case, like me, you’re not as familiar with the rutabaga, here is a little background.

The rutabaga is believed to be the result of a chance hybridization between a wild cabbage and a turnip and is believed to originate from Scandinavia. It looks like a turnip. In fact, until just this week, I thought the rutabaga was a large turnip.

The rutabaga is a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables which includes broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale. Like its cousin the broccoli, raw rutabaga has a pungent smell though much more subtle. Rutabagas can be roasted, boiled, steamed or mashed very much like a potato and has a light sweet flavor. I used rutabagas this season in meat stews both with other root vegetables and on its own. Rutabagas can also be eaten raw, simply peel them with a vegetable peeler. You can slice them for a snack or chop, dice or grate them onto a salad.

Through my visits to a variety of nutritionally focused Web sites, I confirmed that while leafy greens and citrus fruits are certainly touted as being the best source of vitamin C, rutabagas are also an excellent source. I was also interested to learn that one cup of rutabaga has about the same amount of vitamin C as a large tangerine. In addition to this, because the glycemic load of a rutabaga is lower than a tangerine, a rutabaga is better at regulating blood sugar levels making it a better choice to maintain a healthy weight.

I have to admit that at the end of my nutritional investigation I still don’t feel as if I have a definitive answer to my question about nutrients. However, what I take away from the exercise is that you can’t really compare rutabagas to tangerines anymore than you can compare apples to oranges; they all possess unique qualities. I also suspect that the value of an individual food has more to do with how all of its elements work together within the body as well as its freshness and the way in which it was prepared. 

For me, the answer to the question about nutrition is practical good sense: eat a variety of fresh, whole foods -- fresh being the key.

I recognize that I have a bias, I do believe local is the best way to obtain nutrient dense produce. Given the choice between a fresh rutabaga from the farmer down the road or a limpy head of broccoli from outside the New England area, I’ll choose the rutabaga. And with gas prices creeping toward $4.00 per gallon, local seems to be an economically wise choice as well.

If you would like to check out the nutritional content of some of your favorite foods or a fruit or vegetable you are just getting to know, here are some Web sites I found to be very useful:


http://nutritiondata.self.com/ (This site has a tool that allows you to compare one food to another.)


  1. This is one vegetable I have never had, or if I did it was when I was young and cannot remember. I do know that we use to have turnips now and again when we were little, I do not remember being a big fan of that. But I am going to give it a try. I am going to try and use it as I would a potato. I am always wanting to try new things and have the kids try as well. I will let you know what I think when I give it a try!

  2. Sue,

    PJ is not a fan of turnips or the rutabaga. I keep trying! Let me know what you all think. I find that the rutabaga holds up a lot better than a potato in beef stew. I love how sweet they are.

  3. Did I have some rutabaga and not know it this winter? Everything you made was delicious!

  4. Mom,

    It was with the vegetables that I made with the beef stew...you might have thought it was a potato. I'm glad you enjoy everything. :-)

  5. I don't think I have had a rutabaga yet, but will be sure to try one when I see one. :)

  6. Laura,

    Thanks. I don't know if rutabagas grow in Colorado, so you may not have an opportunity to run into one. Based on the growing season where you live, there are probably some differences in what you can obtain locally and what we find here in Massachusetts.

  7. Hi Teri!

    What a wonderful post. I've seen rutabaga's and didn't have a clue how to cook them. Now I know. Read somewhere that there used to be hundreds and hundreds of different vegetables and as a result of corporate farming people think there's only about 8. I'd love to know which veggies have gone extinct for the most part. Thx, G.

  8. Guilietta,

    Thank you. I would love to know how many vegetables have gone extinct myself! If you get Sanctuary Magazine from the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the entire issue is devoted to the origins foods we eat. While reading it, I thought it was interesting to compare what we have grown to believe is absolutely necessary for optimal health with the way other cultures eat and have eaten for hundreds of years. Thanks for the comment!

  9. Teri,

    I bought my first rutabaga in your honor and am about to cook it ... wish me veggie luck! G.

  10. Giulietta,

    Way to walk the talk and "fearlessly" take on a new veggie! I hope you enjoy it. :-)


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  12. Ebenezer,

    Thanks for the comment! I will check out your blog.