Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Above, a white turnip from John Madura Farms, and a Robertson’s golden ball turnip, probably the finest culinary turnip (not a rutabaga!) from Keith’s Farm, both represented at Union Square on Wednesdays. At first I thought this kind of turnip was called “goldenbor” and thought it might have something to do with winterbor kale and redbor kale.

The Yiddish word for turnip is di brukve, and rutabaga is di shvedishe brukve. A Brussels sprout is di brukselke or der briseler kroyt.

The estimable Language Hat posted about rutabagas in language and literature about a month ago, and ever since I have been wanting to root up something Yiddish about rutabagas or turnips. Somehow, I can’t think of anything, but I always felt that I remember Marlene Dietrich’s movies and music as having been in Yiddish. Does anyone else get that? Here is the entry on turnips from Marlene Dietrich’s ABC, a memoir in lexicon form by the screen goddess and serial autobiographer:

I was raised almost entirely on turnips and potatoes, but I think that the turnips have more to do with the effect than the potatoes.

Saturday evening’s In Mol Araan was devoted to bagels in the life and work of the Ba’al Shem Tov. I would not have guessed I would ever need to blog twice about the Besht and Jewish food in one week, but az me lebt, derlebt men (very roughly: live and learn). This very puzzling tale is related in Shivkhey haBesht (from Dan Ben-Amos and Jerome R. Mintz’s 1970 English translation).

189. The Turnip
I heard that once they put a turnip on the Besht’s table, but he refused to eat it. They asked him why, and he said “This turnip grew in a gentile cemetery.” They did not want to eat it either and they put it at the end of the table.

This story is less about the turnip than about the Besht’s uncanny ability to discern the turnip’s provenance. At least, I think that’s what it is about. These are some very confusing stories. The turnip story from the Grimms is even more disturbing.

Here’s some turnip bibliography. I like the title Those Brassy Brassicas.

These turnips are probably going into a lentil soup this week. I have these very pretty brown lentils, smaller than common lentils, but bigger than French lentils or black beluga lentils.

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Dietrich, Marlene. Marlene Dietrich's Abc. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962.

Dov Baer ben, Samuel, Dan Ben-Amos, and Jerome R. Mintz. In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov [Shivhei Ha-Besht]; the Earliest Collection of Legends About the Founder of Hasidism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thrice Venerable Daughter,

Your comment about how you somehow remember Marlene Dietrich's films and music as having been in Yiddish struck a note. I almost seem to recognize the feeling, although it's too vague for me to put into words. However, I would say that when I had the truly remarkable experience of seeing Fritz Lang's great film Metropolis for the first time, I was struck by how powerfully the gestures, the acting styles, the facial expressions and the makeup all reminded me of what I knew of the traditions of the Yiddish stage. I had a similar experience watching Chaplin's City Lights, in which the background music was not just powerfully, but unmistakably, Jewish.


9:09 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Ah, a fellow turnip lover! I'm growing the golden ball turnips in my garden, and I'm incredibly impressed with them. I think I'll grow them for years to come.

I hope yours turned out beautifully in the lentil soup.

This is a lovely site, by the way.

9:17 PM  

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