Armored Turnips (a recipe, plus a bit)

I’m passing along a recipe that is ANCIENT. Literally – the oldest version of which I’m aware (though not called armored) is from the 1400s. It and variations of it are a staple of a group to which I used to belong – the Society for Creative Anachronism.

This is the “turnips for those who don’t like turnips” recipe. Seriously, if you don’t tell the people eating that it’s turnips the first time you’ll get a lot more compliments – unless they’re SCA in which case they’ll blow the secret at the table. “Holy CRAP, Armored Turnips? GIMME.” Yeah, they tend to be that popular.

That said, when you start looking at the recipe without past experience you’re likely to go “yuck”. I mean, sugar and cheese? Really? shudder. OK, enough.

Oh, wait. Actually there are two competing versions, one with and one without sugar – and I mean competing from way back when. Let’s build the basic idea and then come back to some details.

You’re going to bake, roast, or boil turnips (start with a pound when you’re trying for the first time – that’s a couple of fist sized or up to half a dozen small) till they’re tender – call it half an hour. If you cool them the next step is easier: Peel them, then slice them thinly (a quarter inch is too thick, use a mandolin slicer set at about an eighth of an inch if you’ve got one).

For the rest of this you’re going to need about half as much cheese (cheddar is SCA classic but I’ve seen brie, and fontina, and some will mix queso blanco or gouda with parmesan. Basically you want a cheese that’s fatty and strong but not overpowering.) sliced thinner if possible, and a mix of ‘sweet spices’. For a pound of turnips I’ll use about a teaspoon of cinnamon, half a teaspoon each of ginger and cardamon, and I’ll also include about a quarter teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper. If you’re using sugar it’s about a third of a cup and the spices are mixed in.

In a lightly buttered baking dish you’re going to put down a layer of cheese, sprinkle it with a bit of the spice mixture, then a layer of turnips, and dot with a bit of butter. Repeat till the turnips are gone, and top with a layer of cheese that gets dotted with butter. This goes into a 350 degree oven for about half an hour – you want the cheese bubbly and slightly browned from the heat. Serve it hot – well, warm. I know it sounds like a dessert but it’s meant to be a side to strong flavored meats.

The sugar version works as a tolerable dessert when cooled but I still prefer it as a side. And again, I’ve had it both with and without the sugar, and the sugar version just works better for my taste.

Yes, there are a LOT of variations, mostly in the spices. Just remember: cheese, sweet spices, turnips, butter, repeat till done, finish with cheese and butter, bake to bubbly.

And don’t tell your eaters what they’re getting till they’ve ooh’ed an ah’d. If you must tell them what it is, use the Italian: Rape Armate (pronounced RAH-pay ahr-MAH-tay, or close enough to work for this purpose.)

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