The rutabaga’s ancient dark past

Rutabaga makes a delicious soup or salad, flavoured by its ghoulish history. Photo: Gwendolyn Best

by Carolyn Best

Flesh of a delicate yellow hue, pastel purple top, a cross between turnip and wild cabbage, thought to have been bred in Scandinavia in the 14th century, the late Middle Ages: we have the rutabaga.

Our distant ancestors of the great civilizations or the simple land and forest dwellers garnered history, lore and science from their observations of the skies, the changing light and changing stars, the emerging and disappearing of the heavenly bodies. For the early cultures in the human story, the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice was understood as the time when the doorway between the living and the dead was cracked ajar, when the veil between life and death was thinnest. The Celtic festival of Samhain, the Russian Sviatki, the Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead in Mexico, All Souls Day of the Christian church, all acknowledge that perception. Many of the ceremonies that accompanied this turning point in the seasons were celebrated with fire, the element that is the gift from the underworld, and fires were carried about in skulls. In later Europe, the hollowed and carved rutabaga, filled with glowing coals, would replace the skull until, beginning in North America, the pumpkin took the place of the rutabaga.

The Celtic figure of legend, the blacksmith Jack, had mortgaged his soul to the demons of the underworld and was banished there. He travels through dark realms lighting his way with a rutabaga lantern. He became the inspiration for groups of children to prowl the streets at this time of the year, wearing frightening masks to scare away ghouls and demons while carrying their jack o’ lanterns, or setting them in the windows of their homes for protection.

The rutabaga soup in this recipe is a legacy of the notable dining service once offered by Canadian Pacific Railway. In their journeys across Canada the trains passed the farms and holdings of the newcomers who had brought the rutabaga to the North American continent. The other recipe, plain grated rutabaga dressed in vinaigrette, is the simplest of ways to enjoy the nutritious vegetable, an instant salad for a busy night.

Carolyn Best is the former proprietor/chef of The Pantry vegetarian tearoom.


Ruatabaga Soup

This recipe, loved in The Pantry, was introduced there by long-standing volunteer Louise Aronoff. Easy to prepare, locally grown, celebrating our “roots.”

  •  1 onion
  • 1 rutabaga, peeled and chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1½ cups red lentils
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 5 cups broth
  • Crème fraiche

Combine all ingredients, except for the crème fraiche, which is used as a garnish, and cook until soft. Blend and adjust seasoning.

Rutabaga Salad

Grate a peeled rutabaga on the cheese grater. Dress with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, sea salt and a handful of chopped parsley.


Cheerful lunch boxes pack an energy punch

Energy bites for cheerful lunches or pick-me-ups can be made with any of your favourite ingredients.
Photo: Marisa Romano

by Marisa Romano

Summer is over and children are back to school…it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

But is it? One month into wonderland and I see parents distressed at the sight of lunch boxes returning home barely touched, and I hear concerns that their children may not have enough energy for the long school day. I know the feeling. I’ve been there.

Ruth Hartanto, coordinator of GNAG’s Fitness and Wellness program, shares several recipes for energy bites. These (mostly) no-bake portable snacks are also called power bites or protein balls. They are packed with energy, quick and easy to prepare, adaptable to choosy palates and can be simply popped into the mouth for a quick pick-me-up: a smile to brighten cheerless lunch boxes and a stress relief for parents of school-age children?

Surely worth a try, but they are also a pick-me-up for grown-ups, a quick bite before that mid-morning exercise class, a boost in the midst of a hike or a ski trip, and a lift for the mid-afternoon doldrums in the office.

Recipes for Hartanto’s favourites energy bites are all available on the Internet and can be easily found searching by their name: a great variety. Thank you Ruth for passing on your findings!

Coconut and Banana Lentil Energy Bites

Dark Chocolate Cherry Energy Bites

Strawberry Cream Cashew Bites

Cinnamon Apple Energy Bites

Nutella Energy Bites

I discovered energy bites when I received these recipes from Hartanto and started playing in the kitchen, choosing ingredients that meet our family’s dietary needs. This is a variation on one of those recipes – bite-size morsels that my husband packs into his lunch box for a splash of energy before his lunch-hour run.

Marisa’s Energy Bites


  • 500 g cooking dates
  • 1 cup dehydrated apples
  • ½ cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • ½ cup roasted and salted sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut, divided
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp vanilla


Place dates and 1/3 to 1/2 cup water in a sauce pan and cook over medium heat until soft (10 minutes or so).

Place 1 cup cooked dates, the dehydrated apples and seeds into the food processor and mix to reach the desired texture; add ½ cup coconut, vanilla and orange zest. Mix well. You can change the consistency by adding more coconut. Scoop about a tablespoon of the mix to make 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in coconut to coat them. Refrigerate to cool and let the flavours blend. Makes 36-40 bites.

Like the other recipes, once you have the base you can experiment by adding anything you like: dried fruit, nuts, cocoa, chocolate chips and zest of cinnamon, cardamom, almond extract, to mention just a few ingredients. You can change the consistency by adding flaked oats for a nut-free bite or almond flour. Just go for it!

Marisa Romano is a foodie and scientist with a sense of adventure who appreciates interesting and nutritious foods that bring people together.


Share this