Honoring the State Vegetable in Wardsboro
By Linda Gifkins
As autumn leaves begin to fall and the nights get chilly, Vermont farmers are on the lookout for the first deep frost, so they can start harvesting their Gilfeather Turnips. “The harder the frost, the sweeter the turnip,” as the saying goes.
The history of this humble tuber goes back to the early 1900s when Wardsboro farmer John Gilfeather began bringing the bulbous, sweet turnips to market. It is one of Vermont’s unique contributions to cold weather agriculture. The Gilfeather Turnip is in fact a cross between a turnip and a rutabaga. It’s much more mild in flavor than more common varieties of those parent vegetables, with a white color similar to a salad turnip but much larger. Some consider its flavor to be pleasantly “kale-like”.
Fast forward 100 years after the time of John Gilfeather, and the Gilfeather Turnip is now the Vermont State Vegetable, and it is honored at the Gilfeather Turnip Festival. This festival is held annually on the last Saturday in October on Main Street in Wardsboro, Vermont
Never had a Gilfeather or don’t know how to cook one? You’re in luck! The Friends of the Wardsboro Library have recently published the 3rd edition of their Gilfeather Turnip cookbook, and it is filled with over 100 recipes, from appetizers to desserts. Several of the recipes will be offered as tasting size at the Turnip Café during the festival, the most popular being the Gilfeather Turnip Soup. The soup was created by Greg Parks, former chef at the Four Columns Inn in Newfane, Vermont. The creamy sweet soup has become the signature dish at the Festival.
Below is the now-famous recipe. Many more tasty turnip dishes will be available to sample at the festival. Mark your calendar for Saturday, October 26, 2019, rain, snow, or shine, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The 17th Annual Gilfeather Turnip Festival takes place indoors and in big tents on Main Street, Wardsboro, Vermont, at the junction of scenic Route 100 (10 miles from Mount Snow). Admission is free, parking is by donation. Pets should stay home for this event. Highlights of the festival include turnip tastings café, turnip gifts, turnip contest, turnips sold by the pound, more than 40 craft and culinary vendors, live music, and lectures. Follow the Gilfeather Turnip on Facebook and find a full schedule of Festival events online at www.friendsofwardsborolilbrary.org.
Gilfeather Turnip Soup
From the Gilfeather Turnip Cookbook, 3rd edition, 2017
1/4 pound butter
4 large onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
8 cups unsalted chicken broth
3 pounds Gilfeather turnip, peeled and chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup half-and-half
Fresh spinach, washed and de-stemmed, for garnish
Melt butter in 5-quart pot, and sauté chopped onion and garlic until soft but not browned.
Add broth and chopped turnip and cook until tender. Drain and reserve some of the liquid.
Puree mixture in a food processor until smooth. Put through a food mill or sieve and return to pot.
Add seasonings and half-and-half. Mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Add reserved cooking liquid if soup is too thick. Sauté spinach in a small amount of olive oil until just wilted. Use spinach as a garnish on top of the soup before serving.
The Gilfeather Turnip Cookbook is on sale at the Festival, or by mail order on the Friends of the Wardsboro Library’s website — proceeds are used to support the Wardsboro Public Library.