This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
The Turnip (Brassica Rapa), belonging really to the cabbage order of plants, has become by cultivation from its wild state a most valuable food for cattle in the winter, and an excellent vegetable for our domestic uses. It exercises some aperient action, and the water wherein turnips are boiled will increase the flow of urine. The rind is acrid, but the green tops, especially of the Swede, when young, and tender, make a wholesome vegetable dish, being a succulent source of potash, and other mineral salts, in the spring-time. When properly cooked, turnips serve to sweeten the blood; but the rind particularly, and the pulp in a less degree, contain an essential volatile oil which is apt to disagree by provoking flatulent distension. The turnip root is sometimes cut up, and partly substituted for the peel and pulp of oranges in marmalade; but it is a remarkable fact that there is no starch in the composition of the turnip; seeing, therefore, that starch and sugar are absent in the root, there seems to be but little reason why turnips should not be allowed to diabetic patients. The white turnip eaten at table, though finer in flavour, is of less nutritive value than the coarser Swede. It contains scarcely any proteid elements, and "pectose" bodies make up the bulk of its carbohydrates, instead of starch.
If turnips are properly grown, in dry, lean, sandy earth, a wholesome agreeable bread can be contrived from them, "of which we have eaten at the greatest persons' tables, and which is hardly to be distinguished from the best of wheat." Let the turnips be first peeled, and boiled in water till soft and tender, then strongly pressing out the juice, mix these together (after being beaten, or pounded finely) with their weight of wheat meal. Season it as you do other bread, and knead it up; then letting the dough remain a little to ferment, fashion the paste into loaves, and bake them like ordinary bread.
A nice wholesome Piedmontese dish of turnips is prepared thus: "Half boil your turnip, and cut it in slices like half-crowns; butter a pie dish, and put in the slices; moisten them with a little milk, and weak broth; sprinkle over lightly with bread crumbs, adding pepper and salt; then bake in the oven until the turnips become of a light golden colour." Horace advised field-grown turnips as preferable at a banquet to those of garden culture. Comprising these with various other vegetable productions of the kitchen garden under the name Caulis, he has pronounced: -
"Caulis suburbano qui siccis crevit in agris Dulcior: irriguis nihil est elutius hortis." .
"Plants from dry fields those of the town excel, Nothing more tasteless is than watered soil".
Turnips may be safely eaten when raw, having been at one time in favourite use thus in Russia by the upper classes. A boiled leg of mutton with turnips was the almost daily, and much loved dish for dinner of George III. In his quaint essay on Grace before Meat, Elia has said, "A man may feel thankful, heartily thankful, over a dish of plain mutton with turnips, and give himself leisure to reflect upon the ordinance, and institution of eating these; when he shall confess a pertubation of mind inconsistent with the purposes of saying his grace before meat, on sitting down to venison, or turtle." Dr. Johnson's famous illustration of false logic bears a familiar reference to these roots:
"If a man fresh Turnips cries,
But cries not when his father dies, Is this a proof the man would rather Possess fresh Turnips than a father? "