Buttered Rutabaga

“I think Pa had a blacksmith make this tool. Can you guess what it’s for?” my father asked me. He was giving his five-year-old son an educational tour of Grandpa Rang’s barn.

The tool he was showing me had a flat steel blade with a slightly curved cutting edge mounted on a long wooden handle like a shovel. I ventured a guess, “A barn scraper?”

“Nope,” said Dad, “it’s a rutabaga chopper. Pa planted rutabagas every year to feed to the cows in the winter. They loved ‘em, but we had to chop ‘em first. We used to have a box to chop ‘em in.”

That was the first time I had heard that cows ate things like we did. Mom put “beggies,” which is what most people called rutabagas when I was a kid, in soup and mashed them with butter sometimes. They had a sweet but strong taste and were not my favorite food.

Rutabagas have about the same sugar content as carrots, so that may help explain why grandpa’s dairy cows liked rutabagas. After a main course of dried grass, a few mouthfuls of moist sweet rutabaga probably tasted like dessert.

Dairy farmers today don’t generally plant rutabagas to feed their cows, but this relative of cabbages and turnips is becoming more popular as a food to include on the family menu. Gourmet chefs have got into the act and offer rutabaga purées, glazed roasted rutabaga and rutabaga salads with various flavors of vinaigrette dressing—all I am sure at premium prices.

Cumberland, Wisconsin, celebrates the root every summer with a three-day festival of fun and food including bratwurst made with rutabagas by award-winning sausage maker, Louie’s Finer Meats. Before you turn up your nose at one, try a perfectly cooked rutabaga brat at the Louie’s food stand manned by local volunteers during the festival. Like me, you may decide that those “beggie brats” are pretty good.

As I grew up I learned to appreciate the rutabaga. It adds a rich flavor to soups or stews and it’s an essential ingredient of genuine pasties. It is also delicious simply diced and steamed with butter, salt and pepper. Here is how to prepare this simple side dish.


1 medium rutabaga (4 to 5 inches in diameter)
4 T butter
3/4 tsp. salt, divided
Dash of freshly ground black pepper


Peel and chop the rutabaga into a half-inch dice. You should have three to four cups of diced rutabaga. Put it into a three quart saucepan with a half teaspoon of salt and just enough water to cover the vegetable. Bring the pan to a boil and simmer the rutabaga for twenty to twenty-five minutes or until fork tender.

Drain the rutabaga, then add the butter cut into teaspoon-sized pieces along with a quarter teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Stir to coat the rutabaga, taste and adjust the seasoning.

Rutabaga is especially good with beef or pork.

Green Beans With Scallions and Almonds

In 1958 twin brothers Bernie and Bruce Paulson from Cambridge, Wisconsin, invented a machine destined to put thousands of children and their mothers out of work. In 1960, they accepted the offer of a free building in Clear Lake, Wisconsin, where they began manufacturing Pixall Bean Pickers.

Soon the summer social gatherings of bean pickers were replaced by tractors pulling machines that could not sing, keep up with local news, and celebrate the champion picker of the day. I was one of those bean pickers in the early 1950’s, and I now value those memories. I am sure that the memories are better than the actual work of picking beans in the hot sun, but I recall the satisfaction I felt as I filled and tagged each mesh bag.

One summer we were picking for Mr. Vallem, who had a contract to supply beans to the cannery in Cumberland, Wisconsin. I would try to guess the weight of the bags as I carried them to the end of the row. We earned three and half cents a pound for green beans, so a twenty pound bag meant seventy-five cents in my pocket.

Mr Vallem called an end to picking for the day about 4:30 in the afternoon, collected the remaining bags from the field and stacked them next to the scale. It was what we called a Fairbanks barn scale, with a platform base where bags of beans were placed and a balance arm with weights to measure the weight of the bags.

We pickers gathered to learn how many pounds we had picked and to collect our wages. Mr. Vallem would tell his clerk the name on the tag and announce the weight of each bag. The weighing went faster if several bags by the same picker were weighed together, so we tried to gather our bags in a pile to be put on the scale at one time.

I remember one day when I was assigned two rows loaded with beans and had my very best day in the bean field. When I gathered my bags together I was sure that I had over a hundred pounds of beans, which meant big money to a ten year old in 1953. When Mr. Vallem added a hundred pound and then a fifty pound counterweight to the scale, I was in heaven. Over five dollars in my pocket!

Picking beans is hard work, and many of my memories of time spent in bean fields are not very positive, but I still love eating this wonderful vegetable domesticated by native Americans thousands of years ago. Columbus brought green bean seeds back with him when he returned from his second voyage to the New World in 1493. He explained how they were grown in Cuba and soon they were being cultivated throughout Europe. Today they are the most popular edible pod bean in the United States.

There is a reason for that. Here is a simple way to dress up a pound of green beans that will show you just how good they taste.


1 1/4 tsp. salt, divided
1 lb. green beans
3 – 4 scallions
2 garlic cloves
2 T chopped parsley
1/2 – 2/3 cup slivered or sliced almonds
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. crushed dried oregano
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper


Wash and remove the stem ends from the beans. Clean, remove the root ends and chop the scallions into eighth-inch rounds, using all the white and half the green parts of the scallions. Remove the paper and stem ends from the garlic and mince the cloves. Set the scallions and garlic together aside in a small bowl. Wash and finely chop the parsley and set it aside as well.

Put three or four quarts of water in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over high heat and add a teaspoon of salt to the water.

Put the almonds into a small skillet over moderate heat, toast them lightly and set them aside in a small bowl while the water is coming to a boil.

Put the beans into the boiling water and cook them for six to seven minutes until they are tender but still crisp.

While the beans are cooking, put two tablespoons of olive oil into the small skillet and sauté the scallions and garlic for three to five minutes until they are translucent.

Drain the beans in a colander and put them into a large mixing bowl. Stir the scallions and garlic, a quarter teaspoon each of salt and pepper, the oregano, parsley and almonds into the beans. Taste and adjust the seasoning. You may want a little more salt.

Serve hot with meat or any other main dish.

NOTES: Be careful not to overcook the beans. You want them crispy and bright green.

I like to snap the longer beans in half as I wash and put them into a colander, but you may prefer the appearance of the whole beans.

If you have an herb garden, you can substitute a tablespoon of finely chopped fresh oregano for the dried.