Raw Turnip Salad: a foraging recipe

I’ve been foraging, gentle reader, as is my wont. Look at what I found this week . . .


the humble, the holy, the unappreciated . . . the ditch turnip

On Putting By . . .

There’s been some fuss in the interwebs lately about “putting by” (my Grandma’s term for canning, freezing, pickling, drying, curing, or otherwise preserving foods to eat at another time) since the world is a bit unsettled right now.

Strangely, however, I’ve not seen a single word about foraging for ditch turnips that sprout up all around us in the fall, here in Nebraska. So I’ll start the conversation. Somebody must open it: the ditch turnip conversation (sounds like an alternative rock band: The Ditch Turnip Conversation!).

. . . & Being Prepared

Just for giggles, I did a quick search for “disaster preparedness” and the first thing that came up is advice from the federal government. (Honestly, looking for rationale for digging a root cellar!) Let’s see what they recommend:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security suggests keeping at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food on hand for each of your family members at all times.

Hmm. Yeah, the federal government has such a great track record for telling us just what to do, and when to do it these days. Maybe I ought to check a couple of other sources? Get a second opinion, as it were.

A preparedness blogger writes:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security  suggests keeping at least a three-day supply . . .

Hmm. I might have to cast my net a little wider . . .

From MoneyTalks.com, again the first thing is the government’s 3-day recommendation. Geez, I’m starting to get a little creeped out by this 3-day stuff. But then, I have enough food in my refrigerator alone to probably last for 3 weeks. Or months. If one was strategic about it. So a 3-day’s supply seems like a joke.

But here’s something interesting: A list of 11 food items that last practically forever! ¬†Now we’re getting somewhere! (Did you know that oats, rice and dry beans stay good for thirty years, for example? Cool!)

And this is actually a very interesting and handy list for what to sock away if you anticipate not being able to get to a store for an extended period. Or maybe you can get there but many shelves are empty. There are some things on that list that I’ve never thought about before: iodized salt, for one. Multivitamins for the entire family. Spare pharmaceuticals. Very interesting, indeed!

I have a bit of expertise in this area, in fact, and I would certainly recommend more than a 3-day supply, thank you very much, Homeland Security.

To wit:

A Bit of Ancient History

  • I was raised by wolves parents who grew up during the Great Depression, and their stacks of Cool Whip containers (with lids) in the basement storage room speak to the fact that they have never ever forgotten it. I still hear stories about food rationing during the war, and how my Grandma Young wept when she accidentally dumped coffee grounds into the pitcher of lemonade that she had made with their precious month’s allotment of sugar. (The telling of this tale still brings my dad to tears, too.) (He loves him some homemade lemonade!)
  • During the first several decades of our married lives, either Bryan or I (or both of us at once, for awhile) were in college (though I finished a few years before he did) and we lived on beans and rice. Rice and beans. Literally. Ramen noodles. Sale cans of soup with a single carrot diced up into them was a regular meal for us. Our kids don’t believe that anybody could be this pathetic, but it’s true. We were. We started out with nothing, and it took us awhile to get through college and get to the point where we had anything. If hubby and I were trees and you did a cross-section of us after we died, and if people had growth rings like trees do, you’d notice that there were a lot of lean years in there. A LOT.

That’s a disturbing analogy.

  • Moreover, we raised a big family on one small income, with only my piddling attempts to make a buck here or there to add to the bank account. I got really good at scrounging, making-do, and living the adage “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Now there’s a saying for our times that you don’t hear very often. I think it deserves a shooting out into the interwebs at this juncture:

I’m doing my best here to introduce the wonderful topic of foraging into the conversation of storing up and preparing for disaster, shortages, or supply-chain disruptions. After all, disaster could strike at any time.

There’s the Yellowstone caldera, after all. Those random asteroids one hears about. AI: scary, indeed! Nuclear weapons on the other side of the globe. Nuclear weapons here. Encroaching totalitarianism. Powerful people with little sense, in charge of too much. And then there’s God’s promise that the world will come to an end someday, though not through a flood again. That’s his promise. And also that nobody will know when it’s coming.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

-2 Peter 3:10

Speaking of Jesus coming again . . .

The Marine Vet

I was chatting with a retired marine at my plant sale last spring–a big, barrel-chested man with a full head of white hair and lots of patches on his jacket. He and his wife had just moved to Nebraska and were intent to learn how to grow their own food. Our conversation meandered quickly to the subjects of the state of the world and preparedness. I asked what he thought we should be doing to prepare for possibly-challenging, maybe-disastrous times ahead.

He leveled his gaze at me and asked “Are you right with Jesus?”

“Yes,” I said. Of all the things that are uncertain in life, among all the things that I don’t do very well, that is one area that I am determined to get right. Yes, I am right with Jesus. Praise God: He makes that an easy thing to be.

“That’s all you need to worry about,” he said.

I sputtered. What about . . . water? A generator? Do I need to dig a root cellar and whatnot? I asked, shooting a meaningful glance my husband’s way. A root cellar would certainly contribute to my peace of mind, I’m not sure why, but it would.

I felt let down, but at peace at the same time. What else can we really do, if Satan is intent on destroying the world? We can get right with our Savior. Nothing else really matters.

Not even how many bushels of ditch turnips you pull.

golden kitty

Our kitty, Goldberry, grumpy because our three kittens are in her sight lines.

It’s What We Do

My very human tendency, however, to be completely honest, is to hoard food in the fall like a deranged squirrel. I mean, if the end of the world is around the corner, you still have to eat until it happens. Right? And there’s one thing that I’ve done every single day for the past forty plus years: I’ve fed people. It just feels right to make sure that I can continue to do this very basic, quite necessary task.

Without running out of salt, for example, or olive oil. Or root vegetables. Which brings us to the timely subject of . . .

. . . Ditch turnips.

A few years ago I was wending my way home from someplace or other, and I spotted a little hand-penciled sign on the edge of a vast field, which was full of plants that were lush and green, and strangely leafy, for all that it was mid-November, when everything in the fields had been harvested and tucked away weeks ago.

“Free Turnips”

“FREE TURNIPS” it said. What . . . Free turnips. Free turnips? Now this was something new. There was someone in our family at the time who was going through a very challenging time, physically, and I think God showed me those FREE TURNIPS just to get my mind focused on something different than the hospital.

I fell onto those FREE TURNIPS like a mad woman.

Now, now. Don’t look like that, gentle reader. I happen to like turnips–many people do, actually–and FREE anything I like even more (to be honest), so naturally I swung over and climbed out to investigate. It was cold and windy, and despite the piteous moans from the two kids with me, we grabbed a few bags from the car and, folks . . . we pulled turnips.

It took us ten minutes (or less) to fill our many bags with big, beautiful turnips. And nobody got chilblains from the experience, so please don’t believe the tales Amalia and Mack are eager to tell.

We took the roots home, chopped the greens off for a quick treat to throw to the chickens, and socked them away into the cool pantry for winter meals. (Yes, I’d love a root cellar, please somebody tell Bryan that I need one.)

turnip salad fixins

Ah, the cleverness of me!

I felt extremely clever that day, I tell you. There I was, my treasured bushel of turnips in the pantry, and I didn’t even have to go to the trouble to grow them. Boom. #score! #thisismewinning!

Apparently farmers in the area sow turnip and radish seeds, as a cover crop, after the main crop (usually corn or beans) is harvested. The root crops break up the soil and probably do other beneficial things besides. Sometimes cattle are let out into the fields to eat the turnips all winter long, which I consider efficient. (You see, the field also gets fertilized that way.) This plan appeals to the farmer in me.

That was several years ago, and I’ve not seen a field with FREE TURNIP signage since, BUT . . . I noticed that turnips grow in many of the ditches around here ever since. Naturalized turnips? Now that’s cool. And I know . . . turnips aren’t the excessively popular crop that one might wish them to be.

Now . . . foraging for naturalized CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES, that might be something that more folks could get into. Mugs of creamy lattes in the ditches, growing on sturdy stalks, would be so great, too. But turnips is what we’ve got, so it’s turnips we’re gonna pull, dang it. (Black jelly bean bushes. Licorice whips sprouting out of the ground. So many things come to mind. Twinkie bushes.)

I am cheered at the sight of ditch turnips popping up in the fall, even though they don’t have the WOW factor of chocolate cupcakes and creamy lattes. It’s good, wholesome vegetables, an abundant largess from the Creator. And the local farmers, of course, who don’t care a bit if you harvest from the ditches.

ditch with leafyness

Ditch turnips in their natural habitat: the ditch.

Ditch turnips are ready to pull at about the same time that the tomato vines have been frozen back, and the tomato cages are begging to be pulled down. About when the sweet potatoes are ready to be dug. Also about when I need to refresh, mulch, and broadfork the hoophouse beds that I’m going to replant for winter.

The only thing in that list that doesn’t require a lot of time and effort is . . . yup . . . pulling ditch turnips. It’s the easiest crop, by far, that I put up for the winter.

I hope ditch turnips pop up like magic where you live, gentle reader, or that some other volunteer crop free for the foraging is available. There’s always food around, for those who aren’t averse to gathering it. It’s important, I think, to learn what these foodstuffs are, before you’re desperately in need of them.

Hopefully you’ll never be desperate for food, but one never knows.

turnips and kitty

Ditch turnips and our Goldberry.

Ditch Turnip Pointers

peeled turnip

Can you do this? It takes talent.

If you are blessed with ditch turnips in your area, here are a few pointers for you, from an avid ditch turnip forager:

  1. If the turnips are actually in a field, ask permission first, of course. Watch out for cattle that might be in the field, too!
  2. If they are in the ditches, I consider them fair game.
  3. I think the ideal size is about the size of a baseball-to-softball size, though I’ve pulled them in every size and they all have been good. Even the behemoths.
  4. After a light frost, all root crops–including ditch turnips–seem to get sweeter.
  5. Ditch turnips, stored in coolish conditions (ideally, a root cellar–honey!?–but a cool basement will work well too) will last for months.
  6. Here’s a simple primer on how to store root crops so they’ll last a long time.

I’ve roasted turnips, I’ve made them into yummy fries, and I’ve diced them into soups and stews. But this week I did something new: I made a fresh herby raw turnip salad! And now I’ll share the recipe with you. You can always purchase turnips if you don’t have them popping up in the ditches where you live.

chopped turnip

I adapted the recipe from one in this lovely cookbook, which I would recommend to you if you enjoy learning from and cooking heritage recipes. It’s fabulous.

raw turnip salad in bowl

Creamy, crunchy, savory and irresistible.

The Recipe, at last, thank goodness

Raw Turnip Salad with herbs: a foraging recipe
Recipe Type: fresh salad
Author: Amy from vomitingchicken.com
Prep time:
Total time:
Serves: 6
Turnips lend themselves nicely to fresh salads! I like this eaten as a side salad, or piled on a chunk of sourdough bread or toast when I want a healthy snack. This salad is best eaten within 48 hours of making it.
  • 12 oz turnips (4-5 small ones)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • handful of fresh flat parsley, chopped
  • (chopped cilantro, thyme, or oregano would also be good)
  • Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
  1. Peel the turnips, then cut into thin matchsticks. Place in a bowl.
  2. Squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl, then add the salt and whisk. The lemon’s acidity will help to dissolve the salt.
  3. Now whisk in the yogurt, mayo, and some pepper.
  4. Pour the dressing over the turnips and toss to coat thoroughly.
  5. Stir through the green onions and chopped herbs and serve.
forkful of turnip salad

Ooooh this is making me hungry!!

You’ve been very patient with me through this rambling post, gentle reader. If you’re still reading, could I ask you a favor? If you enjoyed what you’ve read in this post, would you share it with a friend, a loved one, a relation? It would mean so much to me.

And please come back, ya’all.

Christmas? Yes, as a matter of fact, I’ve been thinking of that same lovely event. It’s sneaking up on us, to be sure! I’ve recently up-dated my Blog Shop, and have some beautiful handmade French rolling pins that my Dad makes, which would make perfect gifts for the bakers in your life. Also Dad is making these gorgeous wooden Colonial butter knives--new this year–and guaranteed to please the bread-n-butter eater in your life.

Take care. Be brave. Speak out. And gather those turnips.


3 thoughts on “Raw Turnip Salad: a foraging recipe

  1. Carol Kuzilik

    Two years ago my daughter and I were driving thru a small town when we noticed a truck with a sign taped to the cab. Duck tape, of course, as it turned out to be a farm truck. An old truck with a bed full of turnips. “FREE TURNIPS take a few or take them all” We took a few sacks full, which didn’t seem to make a dent in their numbers. Free turnips are the best!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Awesome! For some reason, it doesn’t seem that farmers think they can sell those turnips! I’d pay money for them, but free works for me too!!

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