The Good Earth & Mashed Turnips

I confess I haven’t actually read Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth in years. We read it in book club probably about three years ago. I have to confess I disliked the story, while truly enjoying the book. As a piece of fiction, it was wonderfully written. The characters were drawn out in such a way that I truly despised the ones I was supposed to hate, and sincerely mourned the ones with tragic lives.

But the pointlessness and hopelessness of the whole of Olan’s story will eternally keep it off of my “to be read again” list. I like to find redemption in a book – or at least a little justice. I don’t require pie-in-the-sky happy endings – my favorite book is A Tale of Two Cities – and at the risk of spoiling it for those of you who haven’t indulged in this great classic – it does not have a lovey-dovey, ooey-gooey happy ending. There is, however, redemption. Or, as Mr. Dickens so eloquently calls it – resurrection.

Back to The Good Earth – you’re probably wondering why I’ve brought up a book that I didn’t like and haven’t read in over three years. The truth is it has been on my mind lately. Often.

I was recently in China for two weeks – teaching music to university students. I was there with a dozen colleagues, and delighted in the opportunity to share western culture and western life with my eager students. Unlike the characters I saw in The Good Earth – the Chinese people were generally a very happy group. They loved to laugh and spend time together. They were willing and eager to learn, made friends quickly (in spite of my lack of Chinese, and their lack of English) – and even honored me with a Chinese name -Yü Han.

I’ve recently posted a photo blog on the MasterWorks Festival blog site. If you’re interested in my sight-seeing ventures, check it out here. For more details on the teaching side of things, read all of the MasterWorks blog for this week – Terry Ewell and Alana Carithers did an excellent job of sharing that portion of our trip. Here’s one of my favorite photos from China – I took it as we were exploring Xinzheng – our home base for two weeks.

In other adventures – I’ve started exploring the depths of my favorite cookbook The Joy of Cooking. I have the 75th Anniversary edition, published in the past three years or so. What Julia Child is to some, Irma Rombauer and her colleagues are to me.

For the past few years, since I’ve owned this invaluable tome – I confess I’ve used it not as a suggestion guide, but  more like a Bible. I insisted on following a recipe to the letter. I never changed a thing, never substituted an ingredient. I enjoyed the precision.

With our new diet, however, things have changed a little. I open my cookbook now, not to bake a cake, but to learn how to cook a new vegetable. Or at least make an old vegetable more interesting. Rombauer’s book is full of interesting vegetable tidbits – which flavors pair well with winter squash and the different was to dress asparagus.

Last night I made my first ever batch of mashed turnips. Its not perfect yet, but I think with more butter, less milk and the use of a electric mixer instead of my trusty wooden spoon I have a masterpiece on my hands. My husband and I love mashed potatoes. Alas, on our diet, there is not a white potato to be seen. I remembered having mashed turnips back in my college days at a church potluck (you know the kind – it didn’t matter what was on the table you ate it so you could avoid whatever was lurking in the cafeteria).

So here’s the method.

  • 4 medium sized turnips – peeled and cubed
  • Boiling water to cover
  • Dash of salt and a few drops of honey
  • Warm milk
  • Butter
  • Sea salt, freshly ground pepper and fresh chopped parsley

Bring your water to a rapid boil, and put the turnips in the pan. Add salt and honey and stir to combine. Cover and let boil for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of your turnip pieces. When the turnips are soft, drain and shake well to eliminate the excess water.

Place drained turnips into a bowl. I attacked mine with my trusty wooden spoon, but a heavy duty fork, potato masher, or your electric mixer may do just as well. Wooden spoon method means a good workout. Once your turnips are well mashed, add milk and butter. Be careful to not add too much milk – turnips don’t have the starch in them that potatoes do, and won’t absorb the milk as well.

This is where I should have put it all in the mixer and let it whip to creamy perfection. Instead I continued my advance with my wooden spoon – slowly making an inroad to mashed goodness. Once your turnips have reached the smoothness you prefer (ours were still chunky), add your salt, pepper and parsley. Serve warm. Enjoy!

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