Prairie Turnips

A prairie turnip.

A cluster of prairie turnips.

Where some see a prairie-scape of oblivion, others see a culinary buffet. Just last night I was cruising around in some old digital photos on the desktop, and I came across a couple shots of prairie turnips. I photographed them a couple years ago in the kitchen of a downtown Bismarck apartment I used to live in (the historic Mason Building), I think around 2008 or 2009.

During those summers, Tim Mentz, Jr., of Standing Rock, showed me on the northern Great Plains how to identify the prairie turnip. You can read the landscape for prairie turnips in July. This is when the vegetation sprouts above ground, making them visible. They also grow in certain areas on a hill (it may or may not have something to do with the ph levels of the soil — I’m in the humanities, folks). This, of course, leads to the idea that if you have two different people look at the same landscape, they will see it in a variety of different ways. I like listening to what others have to say about the landscape. Tim Mentz, Jr. always had my ear. We would often joke, too — when a bull was once staring at us and uprooting the topsoil with his front hoof, I asked Tim, “What does that mean?” Tim responded with, “That means we give him distance.”

It is customary to braid the turnips by the root ends, and then hang them to dry. Just like mushrooms (and other dried goods), they will reconstitute in liquid or water. I made turnip soup out of this batch.

With the husk pulled back, this is what the edible flesh of a prairie turnip looks like.

With the husk pulled back, this is what the edible flesh of a prairie turnip looks like.


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