Asparagus and turnip

I can’t imagine any combination more peculiar than asparagus and turnip – well, in fact I actually can, but even so, the delicate but specific flavour of asparagus and its slightly slippery texture, and the difference in that texture between the tips and the stalks doesn’t seem an immediate match made in culinary heaven for turnips. I actually like turnips very much, especially the small early turnips, but they do have a very distinctive and strong, earthy flavour. So, asparagus vs turnips – flavour, texture, smell even! – I’m not sure I am sold on the combination.

During the 2nd World War, people couldn’t be so fussy, and no doubt in search of different ways to serve various items which were in good supply, did make some odd pairings. Here is one of Nell Heaton’s ‘Miscellaneous Dishes’ from her little 1944 book with its optimistic title, ‘Cookery for To-Day and To-Morrow’:

Asparagus and Turnip

Cook some asparagus allowing 4 heads of asparagus to each small turnip, cook the turnips in boiling water till tender. Then drain and scoop out the centres to form cups. Dress with mayonnaise while still hot and allow to cool. Place on lettuce leaves and fill the centre with the asparagus, cut into small pieces. Dress with mayonnaise and garnish with chopped parsley.

The following recipe, which like the turnip/asparagus combo, comes in Miscellaneous Dishes is for asparagus custard… the mind does boggle somewhat. If I start off with her recipe for custard – well, she has three, baked, boiled and steamed:

  1. baked custard: put ¾ pint of milk, 2 oz of sugar and a vanilla pod into a double saucepan and heat gently. When the mixture boils, remove the vanilla pod, allow the milk and sugar to cool slightly and add 3 well-beaten eggs. Mix together and pour into a well-greased pie-dish, grate on a little nutmeg and add a sprinkle of sugar, and bake in a slow oven till just set. If this custard is being used for a savoury flan, add salt ans pepper and chopped chives or parsley, instead of sugar.
  2. boiled custard – put 1 pint of milk and 2 oz. of sugar into a double pan and bring slowly to boiling point. Cool slightly and add 3 well beaten eggs, place over a gentle heat and stir with a wooden spoon till the custard thickens. Serve cold.
  3. steamed custard – beat 3 eggs well and 1 oz of flour and blend. Then add ¾ pint of milk, a little at a time, and add 2 oz of sugar. Pour into a small well-greased pudding basin, cover with greaseproof paper and steam gently for 30 minutes.

None of these seem likely, sweet custard, turnips and asparagus? I think not. Maybe she meant cheese custard, which is a whole different thing!



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