The large, round root, a subspecies of the cabbage, is known as rutabaga in the US, and neep in Scotland. It’s called kålrabi or kålrot in much of Scandinavia, which is confusing to foreigners because it sounds similar to Kohlrabi, the name for German turnip. The name Swede is an abbreviation of ‘Swedish turnip’ the name indicating this root’s origin. Confused? Read more about a cabbage called Swede.
Swede is one of the hardiest of all root crops and is the perfect winter vegetable for the cool climate of northern Scandinavia, where it is immensely popular and widely grown. Traditionally, it has less of a following in southern Scandinavia, though with the growing demand for local, seasonal vegetables its popularity is on the rise.
Related: Scandinavian vegetables
How it grows
Swedes are easy and undemanding to grow, like huge beetroots and mature in October.
Appearance and taste
A swede can be up to 20cm in diameter, and is usually a purple-green color on the outside, and yellow-fleshed inside. Basically, the swede is a large turnip, though it tastes very different. The sweet, nondescript flavor, somewhere between cabbage and potato, is nothing like the taste of the crisp-fleshed, spring-grown turnip. As a vehicle for butter, the swede is perfect, and its soft texture and mildness are inviting in a comfortable way, particularly for kids.
Swede is often prepared with potatoes as a mash, thick soup or gratin, but is versatile enough to be included in any dish calling for mixed root vegetables; mixing it with mashed celeriac and potatoes, make a nice change. As with all sweet-fleshed roots, you need to balance the swede’s bland sweetness: salt, chili, lemon, horseradish, herbs, vinegar, ginger and butter are all good additions. A plain dish of ‘bashed neeps’ (mashed swede) with mace and butter goes well with any succulent Scandinavian stew (see recipe below).
Storing was a great concern for all our forefathers; to keep food for many winter months without it decaying, safe from rodents and scavengers and, further north, from frosts. It was ingeniously done for centuries in beautiful root cellars, dug into the ground, often into a hillside, so you would not have to dig so deep, and to facilitate entering. They could be anything from a hole in the ground to a walk-in ‘cupboard’ lined with stones like a burial chamber, with shelves and boxes of all you needed to take your family safely through to the nest summer.
Root vegetables, cabbages and apples were stored so deep in the ground that frosts could not reach them, and the natural humidity of the soil would keep them fresh until the new crops of vegetables were ready to eat. It was a perfect energy-saving system, which the modern food industry tries to copy using loads of unnecessary energy.
Bashed neeps are a traditional accompaniment to the Norwegian pinnekjøtt – salted and smoked ribs of mutton served at Christmas – but work well with any meat. This is a big quantity, but you might as well make it while you’re at it, and turn leftovers into a crispy gratin, dusted with Parmesan or Västerbottenost, breadcrumbs and butter, the next day.
1kg floury potatoes
500ml warm milk
100g salted butter
1 teaspoon ground mace
1 ½ tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Peel and dice the vegetables, then boil separately in plenty of unsalted water. Mash the potatoes and swede together, with the milk, butter, mace and pepper. Reserve the salt for when the roots are all mashed as it will make the consistency gluey if added at the beginning.
A Cabbage Called Swede, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): sydgront.se