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Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Turnip Story by Susan Van Kirk


I can hear you thinking, “Well, it was bound to happen. Living alone. She’s finally gone out of her pandemic mind. Round the bend. Writing about a turnip on Writers Who Kill. This is a blog for mystery writers. Oh, I suppose she could somehow poison someone with a turnip.”


Not out of my mind. Well, not more than usual.


On my weekly pandemic trip to the grocery store, after checking the parking lot for a sparsity of cars, I happened to buy a turnip in the produce section to use in a recipe. When I reached the checkout counter, the teenage boy who was checking my groceries held up the plastic bag with one turnip and asked, “What is this?”


“A turnip.”


I thought the conversation would end there. Having taught teenagers for years and raised my own through that harrowing period of life, I figured he would check out the produce number and move it on through. End of story.


But no.


He looked up and asked, “I suppose you eat these, but how? Do you cook them?”


I felt my heart kick up a few beats. A teenager with curiosity. “Actually, you cook them, but you can also eat them raw.”


He held up the bag once again and examined the lowly root vegetable. “Not sure I’ve seen one before.”


When you’re a former teacher, you never miss an opportunity. (Here, my children are groaning.)


“Actually, my grandfather always had a garden. I think it was a habit learned from living through two
world wars. When I was young, he’d always plant a few turnips because he knew I liked them. I’d help him in the garden, and we’d pull a turnip from the ground and wash it off with the garden hose. Then I’d eat it raw, sitting right there on the grass. Some days, he’d sit beside me, eat a turnip, and we’d talk. It’s one of my favorite memories.”


At this point, I expected him to grab another item and, bored, keep working. But no.


“That’s cool. I suppose these turnips are vegetables?”


“Oh, yes.”


“Interesting. Learned something new.”


I drove home, thinking about his curiosity. This kid has a  future.


As Connie Berry wrote recently on Writers Who Kill, research is essential when you’re a writer, especially a writer of mysteries. Motives, means and opportunities come from curiosity. The study of human behavior helps in the creation of characters and dialogue. Odd, often unusual details catch your attention and lead to questions whose answers you’d like to know. Like most writers, I end up researching far more ideas than I could ever fit in a book. One thought leads to another, which leads to another, and so on. I must stop myself or I’ll never get the book written.


In researching my mysteries, I’ve become intrigued about subjects I would never have known about had I not decided to become a writer. Poisons, mitochondrial DNA, 19th-century houses, domestic violence, stab wounds, genealogy, the Underground Railroad, other periods of time, art centers, and arson. That is a tiny—a very tiny—sample of the many topics I’ve researched to add accurate details to my books.


I left the grocery store and, once home, discovered turnips provide anticancer and anti-inflammatory benefits, stabilize our blood sugar, and increase our fiber intake. They give us vitamin B6, folate, calcium, potassium, copper, and manganese. Turnips are believed to have originated in middle and Eastern Asia.


That poor kid at the grocery store. Wait until I go back next week and buy kohlrabi.

*photo above is of my grandparents and me circa 1952




Jim Jackson said...

Cute story, Susan. And the questions continue: How long has he been working as a checker? What vegetables does he eat? Assuming it was a white turnip, what would he think of a yellow turnip aka rutabaga? Curious minds want to know.

Kait said...

Hysterical! My mother frequently cooked turnips, but I never knew you could eat them raw. Kudos to the checker with curiosity, you are correct, he will go far. What a sweet story about you and your grandfather. Corn is also good right off the stalk when the sugars are running. A memory of my misspent childhood on my great-grandparents’ farm.

Jim, the last time I made rutabagas I had to cut them on the meat saw we have in the basement. How do normal people (those without meat saws at least) cut up those tasty little rocks?

Molly MacRae said...

Wonderful story, Susan! Kale was our turnip at a grocery store 35 years ago. Our boys loved raw kale and loved pretending they were dinosaurs ripping into it. One shopping day it was missing from its usual space in the produce department. When I asked if there was any in the back, the produce person asked why I wanted it. I told her the children loved it. She told me nope, they shouldn't eat it, it was for ornamental purposes only, and no she would not go look for it. I bought kohlrabi instead and like to think she found that highly suspicious. Your checker has a bright future, wherever he goes, especially meeting people like you.

Tammy Euliano said...

Great story! Recently a check out person looked at an onion and said, "Is this garlic or onion?" :-) Not a lot of cooking going on in his least not by him...or if there is things might taste a bit odd.
Thanks for the smile on the cold morning!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Great story! The checker will go far. I'm mystified by some ingredients I've never used, but can do a "phone cheat" while I'm wandering around the produce department.

Grace Topping said...

Love this, Susan. How lovely to come across a teen with curiosity. And how lucky for him to have you as a customer. It's funny how an idea and then research ends up in our books. I was proficient in taking Gregg shorthand and frequently still write it. I recently found a way to make it a key thing in my latest mystery.

Kelly Brakenhoff said...

Great story Susan! I have a Guinness Stew recipe that calls for turnips and parsnips. It's so much more flavorful than carrots and potatoes.

Susan said...

You are so right, Jim. In fact, my children still continue to suffer through writing a text to me or calling me and having me ask them questions about whatever they tell me. Can't help it. Just curious.

Susan said...

And you have great stories about the past too, Kait. My dad was the executor of my great uncle's estate, and in the estate was a huge farm. In the summer, we could climb the fence and pick corn to have for supper. Many, many times corn and tomatoes were a staple at our house. But we did cook the corn!

Susan said...

Molly, this checker would make a great minor character in one of your stories.

Susan said...

Hi, Tammy. You are so right. Often I've had checkers ask me to identify something, usually a fruit or vegetable. In fact, after this trip to the grocery store, I went again the next week and the checker then asked about yet another turnip and that was the end of the conversation. I think I have made my case!

Susan said...

Thank you, Margaret!

Susan said...

My mother used to make her Christmas lists of presents for us, and she did so in shorthand. Since I often found her list, I had a very frustrating experience.

Susan said...

Kelly, You are so right. I have a few recipes that call for turnips and/or parsnips. It makes for a nice change from the usual summer fare.

KM Rockwood said...

Turnips are great roasted with other root veggies (do the beets separately unless you want everything beet-colored.)

My mother-in-law frequenetly said she prepared mashed turnips and potatoes. When I actually went shopping with her, it turns out she didn't use turnips at all; she thought rutabagas were turnips.

Susan said...

Ha. What a great comment, Kathleen. I must admit my knowledge of root vegetables is hardly extensive.