You don’t hear the word ‘neep’ much anymore, even in Scotland. Turnip, from which we get the name neep in Scotland, was widely used to feed farm animals. Dr Johnson observed on his visit to the island of Coll, in 1773
“Young Coll, who has a very laudable desire of improving his patrimony, purposes some time to plant an orchard; which, if it be sheltered by a wall, may perhaps succeed. He has introduced the culture of turnips, of which he has a field, where the whole work was performed by his own hand. His intention is to provide food for his cattle in the winter. This innovation was considered by Mr Macsewyn as the idle project of a young head, heated with English fancies; but he has now found that turnips will really grow, and that hungry sheep and cows will really eat them.”
Neeps were also eaten at dinner with meats, especially lamb, and appear in recipes for Scottish country cooking of the 18th and 19th century in the form of Turnip Purry, or as an ingredients in Scotch Broth for instance.
But trying to differentiate between common usage of names and what those name represent has led to some challenges in the world of the neep. The Guardian makes an awful meal of trying to distinguish between the neep, turnip and swede, and basically throws up its hands and applies hot towels to its head in confusion and frustration.
In Scotland, on the other hand, Mike Lewis from Veg World tells us that a turnip or neep (Brassica napobrassica) is a root, the outside is purplish-green, and the inside is usually pale yellow or orange. It’s quite a bit larger than the white variety (Brassica rapa), whose skin is thicker. In England, Wales, Australia and New Zealand, this second root is called a swede. That’s presumably because it originated in Sweden, where it’s called rotabagga. That in turn gave rise to its American name: rutabaga.
So now we know. But for more information please see Must See Scotland’s: What are Neeps.
Recipe: Turnip Purry
One of the most common dishes made with neeps is the very old dish, Turnip Purry. There are lots of recipes for this but Visit Dunkeld tells us that to be truly Scottish the turnips ‘ought also to have the addition of a very little powdered ginger and even less powdered sugar’.
- 1 large turnhip (swede)
- Knob of butter
- 1-2 fl oz double cream
- ½ teasp ground ginger (or cumin)
- Pinch of sugar
- Salt and pepper
- Roughly chop the turnip and boil till soft.
- Drain, mash with the butter, cream and ginger/cumin. Season to taste.