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Recipes and Stories

7 November 2011: Part II Queen Molly's Ragout of Turnips

Queen Molly's Ragout of Turnips--the second recipe in today's essay
Mary Randolph provided a similar recipe to that given by Hannah Glass below, though without cream. A few pages over, we find a gorgeous and absolutely classic treatment for turnips that is an equally perfect autumnal accompaniment for pork and poultry of any kind. It almost certainly came to Mrs. Randolph by way of the French-trained cooks at Monticello, since Jefferson’s granddaughter, Martha Jefferson Trist Burke, recorded having had “turnips with brown sugar” at Monticello. Unfortunately, Mrs. Burke’s memory was dim and her attempt at the recipe is, to put it politely, inept. But happily Queen Molly, as usual, got it absolutely right.

A Ragout of Turnips.

Peel as many small turnips as will fill a dish; put them into a stew pan with some butter and a little sugar, set them over a hot stove, shake them about, and turn them till they are a good brown; pour in half a pint of rich high seasoned gravy, stew the turnips till tender, and serve them with the gravy poured over them. (The Virginia House-wife, 1824 ed., p. 128)

She does not add that the gravy should be pretty much reduced to a glaze. I always add a little butter to enrich the glaze at the end.

Serves 4

2 pounds of very small turnips of the same size (or larger ones, if necessary, see step 1)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup rich veal or beef broth

1. Scrub the turnips under cold running water, drain, peel, and trim them into uniform ovals. If they are larger, cut them into halves or quarters and trim each piece to a neat ovals of similar size.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat and, put in the turnips. Toss until they are well coated, then sprinkle with sugar and shake to even distribute it. Sauté, gently shaking the pan to roll them, until they are nicely browned, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the broth and bring to a boil, again gently shaking the pan. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until the turnips are just tender. The broth should be reduced considerably. Raise the heat and quickly boil, again shaking the pan gently, until it is reduced to a glaze. Add the remaining butter, shaking until it dissolves into the glaze, taste and adjust the salt as needed, and pour into a warm serving bowl.
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