I first learned about this delicious root from one of my favorite (alas no longer in print) magazines: Edible Green Mountains. Now that I have eaten them, they are high on my own “to grow” list, for once you’ve eaten a Gilfeather, you’ll be a dedicated fan… and will need to track down some seeds.
From the Fall 2009 issue, in an article titled, “Vermont Roots: Gilfeather Turnips” by Andrea Chesman:
“In the late 1800s, the Gilfeather turnip was either developed or discovered by John Gilfeather of Wardsboro. The eldest son of Irish immigrants Felix and Maria Gilfeather, John inherited the Wardsboro farm… Said to be a secretive, crusty old bachelor, he cut off the tops and bottoms of the plants before taking them to market…so that no one could reproduce them. Turnips – and rutabagas- are biennials. If you buy a turnip with the roots and tops in tact and store it in a root cellar, the vegetable will survive the winter dormancy; replant it in the spring and it will quickly reproduce seeds, enough to allow you to produce a new crop. John Gilfeather wanted to prevent this.
Fortunately, after John Gilfeather died, a number of Wardsboro residents acquired the seed somehow and continued to plant the turnip. Seeds passed from friend to friend, which is how Mary Lou and Bill Schmidt grew their first crop… They registered the turnip as an heirloom variety with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. For many years, the Schmidts were the only authorized source for the seed in the world…”
Today the seeds are available through the Fedco Seed Company, who, incidentally, refers to this fine vegetable as a rutabaga, not a turnip.
Being referred to again as a turnip, the Gilfeather was recently inducted into the Slow Food, USA “Ark of Taste”, a Hall of Fame for heirloom foods. With growing appreciation for the Gilfeather turnip, you’ll enjoy Carol Egbert’s post, art work and recipe for turnip soup. You’ll quickly discover these turnips work beautifully in dishes from soups to sauces, salads to soufflés, roasts and gratins, even breads and pies. By now, you’re likely very curious about the Annual Gilfeather Turnip Festival in Wardsboro, VT where you can taste many wonderful recipes and leave inspired to expand your garden and your vegetable repertoire.