Rutabaga. Really?

Things are different around my house these days. My wife, Amelia is now a college student. She also teaches piano lessons and is active in helping hurting women. I have two jobs…my full-time sourcing manager job at an industrial supply company and I’m a part-time guest lecturer in the Communication Department at Purdue University Calumet teaching “Fundamentals of Speech Communication.” We’re busy and there’s work to do around our Elmhurst homestead.

 So on any given day, you might find Molly Maids, Yard Apes, Gutter Monkeys, or Dan’l Boone of Senior Citizen Stump Removal picking up the slack. Yes, I picked these companies. Unfortunately, none of these fine organizations shop for groceries or cook. And sometimes, I get hungry.

 On one evening, Amelia was out and I was famished. I headed for our gleaming cold-environment sustenance repository and opened the door. There, on the center shelf, evidently enjoying its solitude, was one rutabaga. And I named it Sam.

 Sam the Rutabaga was all alone. No hot dogs. No leftover rotisserie chicken. No green bologna. Not even a Vlasic Classic Dill or a jar of Hair of the Ferret salsa. Just Sam. There he sat, daring me to approach him. It was clear why “rutabaga” is a “term used to describe dirty teenage kids who are up to no good” (Webster’s Online Dictionary). The look in his eyes said it all.

Image My hunter-gatherer instinct kicked in. As a diversion, with cat-like quickness I pointed to the window with a shocked look on my face. It worked. As we all know, a rutabaga’s eyes are not as swivel-capable as a human’s…Sam had to turn his whole body to follow my crafty distraction. I had him. All too easy. He was mine. And I was proud.

 That Sam happened to be a rutabaga was surprisingly appropriate given my circumstances. Rutabagas came to be known as a “food of last resort” in Europe during World War I. According to, “In the German Steckrübenwinter (rutabaga winter) of 1916–17, large parts of the population were kept alive on a diet consisting of rutabagas and little else, after grain and potato crop failures had combined with wartime effects. After the war, most people were so tired of rutabagas that they came to be considered ‘famine food,’ and they have retained this reputation to the present day. As a consequence, they are rarely planted in Germany.” 

Smart, those Germans. Last resort indeed. Guess it was my Steckrübensummer.

Sam was about the size of a regulation softball, one that had been overused in a slow-pitch league with no restrictions on crushing the ball out of the park. Sam had a flat top, sort of like a veggie with a crew cut. A little sprout of green…about as much hair as me. Sam’s skin felt like he’d been to Windy City Auto Spa for a hand-applied deluxe Mother’s Paste Wax job. Candle-like. Not particularly appetizing.


But a rutabaga. I do like the word. Rutabaga. Rutabaga. Rutabaga. It’s fun to say. Go ahead. Try it. See? And I’m not the only one. “Rutabaga is repeated over and over again in the chorus of ‘Call Any Vegetable’, a famous song celebrating vegetables by Frank Zappa and the Mothers” (Webster’s Online Dictionary).

The dictionary provided some more interesting rutabaga lore. “Prior to pumpkins being readily available in the UK, rutabagas were hollowed out and carved with faces to make lanterns for Halloween. In Scotland, they were the ancient symbol of a damned soul.”

If “you are what you eat” I might be in trouble.

 Speaking of eating, lest you think I’m totally helpless, I do know how to order pizza.  I’ve actually done that before. And I’ve cooked a thing or two. Even made southern baked catfish and a semi-bumpy chocolate soufflé once. But all that takes time. I wanted food and I had a reasonable facsimile in my trembling hands, this ancient symbol of a damned soul, Sam.

I could have cooked this odd cross between a turnip and a cabbage. People use them in soups, stews, even pies. In Scotland they make a dish with rutabagas and potatoes called “neeps and tatties.” Nope. Not for me. Proverbs says, “A lazy man does not roast his prey…” Guilty. Heck, I didn’t even wash it. I made my first attempt at a bite. It was like trying to chomp through a purple-gray lopsided croquet ball. On try three I got through. Not much taste, but not disgusting, either. By the time I was done, my jaw felt like it had run a triathlon. The jury was out on my stomach.

Speaking of rutabaga sports, the International Rutabaga Curling Championship is coming up this December in Ithaca, New York. You know, curling? That deal with a broom they do in Canada? At this event, “any projectile but a rutabaga is illegal.” I might just enter. I definitely know I can hurl a rutabaga.

By the way, though I have made up a little of this story, I did indeed encounter Sam the Rutabaga in June. And I did eat that big dirty raw root on the road to Indianapolis. I’m not sure why. Oh. I have to go now. Yard Apes are done for the year but the Gutter Monkeys and Molly Maids will be here soon.


A Rutabaga Curl Poem
By Monika Roth

Twas the Last Day of Market and friends gathered round
To celebrate 30 long years in this town
The wind it is wicked and sales are quite slow
and still there are vendors who brave the deep snow
The booths are half empty, the crowd it is thin,
There’s a buzz in the air, a contest to win!

Then all of a sudden there rose such a clatter
As round little objects were hurled in a scatter

And vendors competed and customers watched
A little root vegetable that made quite a splotch

Some use them for soups, some use them for stews
but here at the Market, we’ve found something new
The rutabagas not widely known in this land
Make great hurling objects and that is just grand

The land now lays dormant and farmers can rest
While dreaming of crops they want to grow next
some will grow parsnips and turnips and kale
but some will grow rutabagas just for the hurl!



4 thoughts on “Rutabaga. Really?

  1. I bet Sam didn’t know he was going to be part of a history lesson. He will be remembered .
    Well done Bill! How much research went into this story?


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