It’s a really scary time for our National Park system which is short many protectors. With the government shutdown in full effect there have been horror stories filling the news of park destruction and overflowing trash and toilets. All of this is a terrible waste, but even worse is the human cost of the current situation. People are going without their paychecks, and even if they get back pay it won’t pay the interest or fees many people are incurring and what about people who have copays for medicine like Insulin? We have a number of friends who are government employees who are suffering through this, people with children and families. A few industrious friends have been posting pictures of cooking everything in their freezers and making depression style concoctions trying to conserve as much money as humanly possible. It’s both inspiring and shocking. And while we all feel for those in this temporary situation it made me think about people who live in need all the time and what we do about hunger as a society. Pittsburgh has a great program that give fresh produce out, like a food bank. The idea is that you get 30-50 lbs of produce each month in order to give greater access to fresh food.
It’s a great program, but there are some kinks. I have some friends, and many more now during the shut down, who are participating in the program. Those that participate regularly have the normal issues a working family has, kids who won’t eat things, crazy schedules that don’t allow for real sit down meals often, and dietary constraints. And while it does provide a lot of food, you must take it all, even if you won’t eat it. So this week a friend picked up her share and shares for others in the community, which she selflessly delivers. We got to talking and she said no one in her house eats eggplant and she had 4 big ones. And then some turnips. I offered to make the eggplant into Eggplant Parmesan and split it with her and to process anything that she wasn’t going to use into something usable. She sent me this:
It’s an enormous amount to process. And one really has to question (to quote a friend) the Dickensian amount of turnips. I’m not sure I have ever cooked a turnip before today. I decided to see what I could make with limited additions from my pantry, to see if it is feasible to expect someone to be able to process this. It took me 90 minutes to peel 3/4 of those turnips. First I peeled and salted the eggplant and made a quick red sauce on the stove so it could simmer. Then I peeled, and peeled and peeled. I told her I would make some meals from it and split it all with her, contributing the other necessary ingredients. It’s important to note that I cook from scratch all the time, 2-3 meals a day. I have a fully stocked kitchen and pantry, and excellent cookware and tools. I know how to cook, I have a lot of experience, and I have a spouse who removed our children from the house while I cooked. You’ll see below, the eggplant, my midway point with the turnips and and where I screamed UNCLE at the turnips, and how many are left in the background.
First I scooped enough turnips out to cover a large baking sheet and covered them with olive oils, garlic, salt and pepper and put them into roast. Then I boiled the remaining turnips. I cooked some hot Italian sausage up and ladled some parboiled turnips in, and removed the sausage to slice it up. I added it back in sliced and kept cooking it. I put some minced garlic in and and as the turnips got color, I threw in some kale I had hanging around. I turned the heat up high, and when it was really hot hit it with some leftover white wine, covered it and turned the heat off. I then drained my fully cooked turnips and put some in my mixer to mash with salt, pepper, garlic, parsley, butter and cream cheese. NOTE: You can’t mash turnips with a kitchen aid, you need an immersion blender. So after I got them back into the bowl, I began to blend them properly and slowly added half and half to get a tasty mashed turnip.
.The final dish I made for turnip EXTRAVAGANZA was a turnip casserole that involved taking boiled turnips and folding them into a thin batter and covering with buttered breadcrumbs before baking. I found the recipe here and I was intrigued after reading it. https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/turnip-bake/ Here is the finished product. My children were disappointed it wasn’t a dessert.
By now the eggplant was fully drained and I needed to begin dredging and frying it. that took me about 40 min, with 4 good size eggplant. I had enough for two full pans but I had only made enough sauce for 1 and a half. I was packaging the ones for my friend in foil half pans because there are few eggplant lovers in her house. I was also caramelizing some of those onions while I fried eggplant, to try a recipe for french onion soup. I didn’t photograph it because I forgot and I was tired. With everything I made you could probably feed a family like mine, two parents and 3 youngish children for about a week. If you don’t mind monotony, and no one gets picky and 9 year old Ranger would probably get hungry after meals.
I mixed my half of the roasted turnips with some previously roasted root veg and served them along side hamburgers for our dinner. Tomorrow we will eat the eggplant parm, and the mashed turnips, sausage bake, turnip casserole and onion soup will be rotated in. I’m guessing 2/3 children won’t eat the sausage bake. Everyone will at least try the casserole. If I melt enough cheese on the onion soup I might get all of them to eat it. It’s anyone’s guess about mashed turnips, but if I mix it with mashed potatoes I might get by with it. None of my children are particularly picky and none have food related health issues, so it’s a lot easier for us. It took me 6 hours to do all of this, and the support of my partner who occupied our children. It took a fully stocked pantry full of spices, additional produce, butter, cream, eggs and meat. And it took all of my experience at batch cooking, and my stock of covered casseroles and foil pans to package and manage the cooking in a useful way. So while it was an abundance of free food, how much of this ends up wasted because it’s not accessible enough? Eggplant is a tough veggie too, if you don’t salt and drain it it is horribly bitter. If you take all the peel off it disintegrates as it cooks, but if you leave the peel fully intact it can be chewy and bitter, you have to peel it JUST RIGHT to make it amazing. And one culinary misstep and a child is not trying it again. Can you imagine a child eating one turnip and being like “NOPE” and you have how many pounds left?? Even the quickest of the dishes would have taken an hour to prep it. It’s an enormous undertaking to plan and process and use this food, and I was up for it mostly because it was an interesting challenge, I love my friend and I was inspired by my online shutdown cooks, but I couldn’t do it every week.