Happy Thanksgiving: My Grandmother’s Yellow Turnips

Yesterday, I made my grandmother Ethel McKim’s yellow turnips. I’ve written before about the recipe books she made for my sister-in-law and me the year before she died. Yellow turnips (also called rutabagas) were a particular feature of family feasts on my mother’s side. Her mother’s mother’s parents were born in Germany, and the foods and traditions of the German side ran deep.

Like most people, they gave a meal like Thanksgiving an ethnic twist. In their case, coleslaw and yellow turnips were added to the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy.

Everyone in that line is long gone (except for my cousins and my second cousins, who probably also made yellow turnips yesterday). But funny thing, years ago I brought the turnips to my sister- and brother-in-law’s feast and the family loved them. So now, every year, our Italian, Irish, WASP, Brazilian family enjoys the turnips. So I am offering them to you.

yellow turnips also called rutabagas

Think you don’t like yellow turnips? Try these. I’ve converted many a skeptic.


1 turnip 2-3 lbs, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large potato, peeled and cut into chunks
2 large onions cut up
1 tsp salt
4 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon flour


Cover the vegetables with water. Add the salt and cook on a low boil for 40 minutes or until soft

Save 1 cup of the turnip water before discarding the rest.

Mash the vegetables using a potato masher. Make sure there are no chunks remaining.

In a small pan or fry pan melt 3 or 4 Tablespoons butter.

Add 1 Tablespoon flour stirring quickly.

Continue stirring. Add enough of the turnip water to make a roux. (The roux will be thick and bubbly. If it breaks up, add more water and cook down while stirring.)

Mix the roux into the turnips thoroughly.

Add sugar, salt and pepper to taste. (Grandmother recipes say things like this. It depends on the turnips, but I use a quarter cup of sugar. I lightly cover the top of the mash with salt and pepper, stir it in and repeat.)

The recipes says serves 6 to 8, but on a day like Thanksgiving when there will be many side dishes, it will go further.

My grandmother notes: Good with beef, pork and fowl.

So there you have it. I recommend it. Happy Thanksgiving.

About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at www.maineclambakemysteries.com
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7 Responses to Happy Thanksgiving: My Grandmother’s Yellow Turnips

  1. Vida Antolin-Jenkins says:

    Thank you, and happy Thanksgiving. We spent a little time at our office this week talking about preparing Thanksgiving dinner . Almost everyone spoke of ethnic foods added to the traditional menu – additions that become sacrosanct over time. I am fortunate to come from a family where cooking is a team sport; the holiday gathering to cook together is part of the tradition.

  2. Lea Wait says:

    Thank you, Barb! I’ll try it! And have a wonderful holiday!

  3. Susie Brownell says:

    I don’t think Ma was capable of making anything bad. This recipe didn’t make it to the Midwest with my mother, so I’ve never had it. I’ll have try make it sometime. I’d recognize that handwriting anywhere.

  4. Delsora Lowe says:

    This brought back memories of my grandmother’s rutabaga and potato mash. She was Scottish. We sometimes add carrot to the mix. But I am going to try your recipe, since it is a bit different from my grandmother’s. Yummmm!

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