Historically, my Thanksgiving table always includes lots of yellow vegetables and few white. A new sister-in-law partaking of the holiday dinner for the first time, remembers this was her virgin encounter ever with turnip and rutabaga. She wasn’t fond of either, but learned not to pick one over the other, just quietly pass them both on down the line of family. We serve both as my mom loves the rutabaga and my dad would not consider it a holiday meal with white globe turnip. To the untrained eye, they are one and the same. To my parents, they are as different as night and day, and the subject of an ongoing argument that has persisted during their 56 years of marriage. I am not about to deny them this pleasure.
Botanically, rutabaga and turnip are different species, but in the same genus. Rutabaga is (Brassica napobrassica), also commonly called a Swede turnip, Swede or waxed turnip. It is believed to be developed in Bohemia during in the 17th century from a cross between turnip (Brassica rapa) and a wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea). They were used as a food source for humans and also fed to livestock as they are dense and provide a high energy source for the animals. Rutabagas were and are also used as a forage and cover crop in the fall. Rutabaga is a cool weather, biennial plant. The first year it will produce leaves and the root, including the swollen storage organ we eat. The second year, if left in the ground, flowers and subsequent seeds will be produced. The flavor of rutabaga is very similar to white turnip, just a bit smoother. They cook up drier than white turnips.
White turnips are botanically (Brassica rapa). It has a bulbous taproot with are edible top greens. Turnips are faster growing, and will mature in two months. They have a higher water content than rutabagas. Turnips for summer use should be planted as early in the spring as possible. For fall harvest, rutabagas should be planted about 100 days before the first frost and plant turnips about 3 to 4 weeks later.