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Recipe, Columella's Preserved Turnip

Turnips (rapum)

The turnip was seen as simple fare. The plant is native to Europe, nutritious, easily cultivated, and therefore cheap. Opinion differed about how healthy it was. The great doctor Democritis rejected turnips, believing that they made people feel bloated. Other doctors saw the turnip in a more positive light:

"Diocles praises the turnip plant, declaring that it stimulates the amorous propensities. So too does Dionysius, who adds that it' effects are even stronger when eaten with rocket" (Plin. N.H. XX-viii)

Healthy or not, the turnip had many devotees, of whom Emperor Claudius was one. When he died it was announced that he was to be deified so there would be someone in heaven who could eat turnip with Rome's founding father, Romulus. (Sen. Apoc. 9).

Martial wrote an "apophoreta" on the subject of this winter vegetable:

"Turnip I give, to bring you some cheer in the frost of the shortest day, while Romulus -- no less is eating the same in heaven." (Mart. XIII 16)


There was a widespread usage of the copper - Take the roundest turnips that you can find and scrape them clean if they are dirty. Peel them with a sharp knife. Then with an iron sickle, make an incision in the shape of an X, as picklers do but be careful not to cut all the way through. Then sprinkle the incisions with salt, not especially fine. Place the turnips on a basket or in a trough, with a little extra salt, and allow the moisture to dry out for three days.
After three days a piece from the inside of one turnip should be tasted, to tell whether the salt has penetrated through. If it has been absorbed, remove the turnips and wash them in their own moisture. If not enough moisture has been secreted, add some salt liquor and wash them in that.

Then place them in a square wicker basket, not too tightly woven, but strongly made with thick wicker. Then place a board on the turnips that can be pressed down within the opening of the basket if necessary.
When the board is in place, put heavy weights on it and leave the turnips to dry overnight. The place them into a jug treated with resin, or in a glazed pot, and pour vinegar with mustard over it, so they are submerged. You can use them after thirteen days. (Col. R.R. XII-1vi)

To the above description need only be added that about one teaspoon of mustard for every five turnips should be used. It is well worth the trouble to preserve some. The turnips assume a flavor reminiscent of horseradish. Cut the turnips into thin slices before serving.


Patrick Faas. "Around the Roman Table,Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome."


© NovaRoma 2005
editing by
Marcus Minucius-Tiberius Audens
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Marcus Philippus Conservatus and Franciscus Apulus Caesar

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