Macomber Turnip Soup
Before you get all, “I hate turnips” on me, hear me out. If you’ve only ever tried the more common white turnip and hated its inherently bitter flavor, then you have to promise me that you’ll give Macomber turnips a try…if you can find them, that is. The Macomber turnip is celebrated in Southeastern Massachusetts where it met its humble beginning, but can be difficult to find elsewhere. An article published in Edible South Shore magazine provides some insight:
"As legend has it, the journey of the Macomber turnip actually began thousands of miles away from Massachusetts. In 1876, bothers and sixth-generation farmers Adin and Elihu Macomber of Westport brought rutabaga seeds back from The Centennial Exposition, which took place in Philadelphia (rutabaga is a 17th-century crossbreed of cabbage and turnip). They decided to experiment by planting the seeds next to their radishes in order for the plants to cross-pollinate, and to their credit, the new turnip resulted. Macombers have the white flesh characteristic of their radish roots, but they also have a bit of a horseradish flavor when raw. Cooking them, however, brings out a subtle sweetness that is truly their signature."
Enter this silky, smooth, luxurious soup that perfectly highlights the unique flavor of Massachusetts’ most coveted root vegetable. I first tried this dish a few years ago, when my co-worker made it for a cooking demo to highlight local Macomber turnips from Westport. She found the delightfully simple recipe online from one of Boston’s most famous chefs, Tony Maws, chef and owner of Craigie on Main. I’ve adapted it slightly over the years, to make the measurements and instructions a bit more specific. The recipe below includes my changes—you can find the original version on Red Tomato. Serve this soup as a first course for your Thanksgiving dinner. I promise your guests will love it.
Macomber Turnip Soup
Makes about 4 quarts
Adapted from Chef Tony Maws of Craigie on Main
1 stick salted butter, plus a bit more for the pan
1 large leek, trimmed and thoroughly cleaned, diced
3 lb Macomber turnips, peeled and 1-inch diced
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
4-5 cups water (you can also use extra stock here)
1 cup crème fraiche
1 ½ tsp Kosher salt, plus more for seasoning leeks
½ tsp fresh-ground black pepper
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, melt enough butter to coat the bottom of the pot. You shouldn’t need more than 1 TB. Add leeks, season with a pinch or two of salt, and sauté until soft and translucent.
Add diced turnips and stock to the pot. Add enough water (or more stock) to cover the turnips by two inches of liquid. Season with 1 ½ tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper and bring to a boil. Once soup is boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook 15-20 minutes or until turnips are thoroughly cooked and easily mashed against the side of the pot.
Blend soup in two batches in a high-powered blender like a Vitamix. To each batch, add half of the turnips, half of the cooking liquid, ½ stick of butter and ½ cup crème fraiche. Put the blender lid on, being sure that it’s secure, and remove the lid plug. Place a clean kitchen towel over the opening and hold the lid down tightly. Start the blender on low speed, slowly increasing to high. Blend until very smooth and transfer to another pot or serving bowls. Repeat process with second batch. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve hot, topped with fresh chives and an extra grind of black pepper.
Note: I prefer to use organic chicken bone broth from Pacific for this recipe. It has 9 grams of protein per cup, which makes this a pretty high-protein soup considering it’s otherwise mostly veggie-based. Another plus, this particular brand of broth doesn’t contain any added sugar or salt—a huge plus since most store-bought options typically do.
Have you ever gotten your hands on Macomber turnips? If so, what’s your favorite way to prepare them?