Rutabagas are humble food to be sure, and my husband has a story demonstrating this fact. His father, D.B., was a pilot stationed in England during World War II. While walking by a farm in the countryside, D.B. spied a familiar and favorite food from his Middle Georgia home: rutabagas. He asked the farmer if he could have a few to take back to camp, hoping to convince the cooks to boil the rutabagas for him. The astonished farmer refused to part with the rutabagas because, he insisted, rutabagas, also known as Swedes, were not intended for human consumption, they were fit only for the beasts of the field. A soldier returned to camp without a surefire taste of home, and the lucky cattle got to keep their rutabagas.
This story gets dusted off whenever we serve rutabagas to friends who've never tasted the earthy bulbs. I'll admit that I had never considered rutabagas as food for humans or cattle until my husband introduced me to them. His rutabagas cooked with a smoked turkey leg are now a quirky highlight of our holiday tables, partly to honor the past, partly to secure a place in the future for solid, earthy, humble food.
Tonight, the rutabagas were roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes. As is true with most roasted vegetables, they were much sweeter than when braised. The color was golden, instead of the amber I expected. Indeed, they looked much like burnished Yukon Gold potatoes. Go ahead, give rutabagas a try. You may have a story to pass on to your kids.