In Scotland, anyone over a certain age, will know them as fairly interchangeable, with simply a different colour to set them apart. A comment on an earlier recipe post about cooking this versatile and really tasty vegetable, made me decide to do a post about the fundamental differences and why we Scots tend to refer to turnip as swede, or neep, or is it turnip?
It still begs to argue the reason for the different names. Seriously, it could make a grown woman cry. It’s not terribly straight forward, and an English/Irish/French/Scottish debate could grow in parliament to get a very uneasy stalemate as each side battled the other to come out on top. This pair of root veg could cause utter chaos on a dinner menu.
Everyone knows who Rabbie Burns is, and that we die hards North of the border tuck into haggis, neeps and tatties. So, are those neeps turnip or swede, or a mix of both? The basics really came from days gone by, when vegetables were more locally sourced. Scottish grannies knew about turnips versus swedes, but turnips were usually reserved for the more well heeled families that could afford to import them when weather was poor. Prices were higher. As a child growing up, the greengrocers always had bins and bins of huge swedes on sale, but never a turnip in sight. Turnip, when cooked, has a more white fleshy appearance, where swede, when cooked, is a more yellow/orange colour. Cooking with turnip used to be seen as a sign of wealth, due to the small size and difficulty sourcing in winter months. Knowing all this though, really doesn’t help much to determine what neeps are either.
In Aberdeen, we often still use the name neep to describe swede. We also call swede turnip. Who knows what most people call the white turnip? I grew up thinking it was a posh veg with no taste. Maybe they grew more white turnip down south, where the weather is warmer, and crop growing needed to be faster for higher population densities, but I’m seriously guessing.
Growing up, my grannie cooked ‘turnip,’ or ‘neep,’ every week, but it was always actually, very orange, 2 hour steamed swede. I was clueless. Neeps, turnip and swede were all the same thing to me then. Not until our first major supermarket opened it’s doors a few decades ago, did I ever see one of those strange white things in person.
In Aberdeen, and most of Scotland, a burns night supper is really haggis, swede and mashed tatties. What other nationalities or generations do, I have no idea. Some may be more politically correct in the terms they use, but I know what I mean…not that my knowing counts for anything much. In some countries, swedes are pig swill, but they don’t know what they’re missing out on. Honestly, swedes/neeps/turnips of the orange variety are ultra tasty indeed. A bit like a cross between a potato and sweet potato to my taste buds.
Just to make this difficult, my grandfather, who was raised on a farm, called both white and orange varieties neeps, which he was adamant was simply a shorter nickname for turnips of any colour, ie both white and orange, and also called them greentops or greenies. Young ladies now tend to use the name greenies as a term for nail fungus….. Confused much? I’m not.
In America, they tend to call swedes – rutabaga. I spent ages one day trying to figure out what on earth a rutabaga was. So disappointing to find out it was just a plain old orange neep.
In short, I dislike the little white round things, and love the bigger yellow/orange things.
The major differences:
- Smaller and more round than swedes,
- White flesh when cutting into the turnip.
- Fast growing, but are very small. Can be grown in around 6-8 weeks.
- Need more fertiliser, and are higher maintenance to grow than swedes.
- Do not do well with frosty weather and must be harvested before the first heavy frost, which can be fairly early, and unpredictable in Scotland.
- Often very much bigger than turnips, with a longer shape.
- Yellow or orange flesh, depending on cooking time. The longer swedes are cooked, the darker colour the flesh achieves.
- Are very hands off, and low maintenance to grow.
- Do very well in frosty weather. The swede is said to be best after the first winter frost.
- Came from Sweden originally, where to grow, vegetables need to survive heavy winters.
- High yield per swede, made them a favourite for Scottish grannies.
- Sweeter in flavour than a turnip, to which they are indeed, related.