Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Gilfeather...a turnip of champions.

     Most people that don't come from these parts, know or even wonder about the Vermont delicacy,  the Gilfeather turnip.  Its history is somewhat mysterious, and you have to know someone that knows someone to get it in time for Thanksgiving. But when you get it, you'll be happy that you did.

      The Gilfeather is a distant cousin to the sweet white German turnip.  It became part of Vermont history when John Gilfeather, described as" a lanky bachelor of few words" from Wardsboro, Vermont began growing this unique turnip in the early 1900's, and through hybridization became what it is today.  John Gilfeather knew a thing or two about enterprise, and he kept the seeds to himself and cut the tops and bottoms of his turnips to prevent reproduction.  The strange thing about this vegetable is that after the first frost the mild taste becomes sweet and the texture creamy.  The Gilfeather is one of few widely recognized and officially certified vegetables indigenous to Vermont.   Wow, so why the secrecy?  There is a debate out there that Gilfeathers are in fact rutabagas, but the distinction can be askew because in Colonial times turnips were referred to as rutabagas and vice-versa.  Whether it is a rutabaga or a turnip is not so important as the celebration that honors John Gilfeather's wacky vegetable.  On Saturday, October 23rd you can take part in the 8th annual Gilfeather Turnip festival, a fun family day filled with turnips. Admission is free and a popular feature of the festival is the turnip tasting, where local chefs vie for the best turnip recipe.  New England is full of festivals and The Keene Pumpkin festival is the Finale that definitely ushers in the winter.  If you are in the neighborhood and like turnips this is your party.
      The magic and nostalgia of New England is in full bloom right now, and tradition is weaving its tangled web. Every weekend from here until the quiet slumber of January is full of events.  From Maine to Maryland you can celebrate small town folklore and cultural heritage that makes New England a place to remember.

Gilfeather Turnip Soup, A Wardsboro Tradition

1/2 pound butter (Cabot's of Vermont the best)
2 pounds of gilfeather turnips, peeled and chopped
2 onions, minced
2 cups minced celery
3 cloves of garlic minced
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
8 cups of chicken stock
1 cup of cream
1/2 tsp of nutmeg
1/2 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a kettle and saute onions, celery and garlic until sweet smelling and translucent.  Add chicken stock and turnips and let simmer until turnips are tender.  In a food processor, puree soup until smooth. Return to stove top and simmer.  In a small saucepan melt the 1/4 butter and add 1/4 cup flour and cook for 5 minutes on low heat.  Transfer some of the hot soup to the flour mixture and mix well.  Add back the mixture of soup and flour to the kettle and simmer until slightly thickened.  Add cream, nutmeg and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.  Garnish with fresh croutons.

   You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by his way of eating jellybeans.~ Ronald Reagan(1911-2004) quoted in the Observer, March 29 1981


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