This hearty Rutabaga Brassicca napus, superficially resembles the common turnip, Brassica rapa. However, the rutabaga is endowed with more carbohydrates, sugars and vitamin C, has a firmer flesh and keeps longer. It is actually a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, along with Kale and Cabbage. In fact it is said to be a hybrid of wild cabbage and turnips.
Because rutabagas thrive best in colder climates, they became popular in Scandinavia, but especially in Sweden, the country that earned them the name "swedes," the name is derived from the Swedish words for "thick root." In Europe, rutabagas are still called swedes. In America, rutabagas were first cultivated in the northern parts of the country in the early 1800s. Canada and the northern states are today's greatest producers of the rutabaga.
In continental Europe, it acquired a bad reputation during World War I, when it became a food of last resort. In the German Steckrübenwinter (rutabaga winter) of 1916–17, large parts of the population were kept alive on a diet consisting of rutabagas and little else, after grain and potato crop failures had combined with wartime effects. After the war, most people were so tired of rutabagas that they came to be considered "famine food," and they have retained this reputation to the present day.1
The Rutabaga and the history of the Jack O'Lantern
The Irish brought the tradition of the Jack O'Lantern to America. But, the original Jack O'Lantern was not a pumpkin.The Jack O'Lantern legend goes back hundreds of years in Irish History. As the story goes, Stingy Jack was a miserable, old drunk who liked to play tricks on everyone: family, friends, his mother and even the Devil himself. One day, he tricked the Devil into climbing up an apple tree. Once the Devil climbed up the apple tree, Stingy Jack hurriedly placed crosses around the trunk of the tree. The Devil was then unable to get down the tree. Stingy Jack made the Devil promise him not to take his soul when he died. Once the devil promised not to take his soul, Stingy Jack removed the crosses and let the Devil down.
Many years later, when Jack finally died, he went to the pearly gates of Heaven and was told by Saint Peter that he was too mean and too cruel and had led a miserable and worthless life on earth. He was not allowed to enter heaven. He then went down to Hell and the Devil. The Devil kept his promise and would not allow him to enter Hell. Now Jack was scared and had nowhere to go but to wander about forever in the darkness between heaven and hell. He asked the Devil how he could leave as there was no light. The Devil tossed him an ember from the flames of Hell to help him light his way. Jack placed the ember in a hollowed out Turnip, one of his favorite foods which he always carried around with him whenever he could steal one. For that day onward, Stingy Jack roamed the earth without a resting place, lighting his way as he went with his "Jack O'Lantern".
On all Hallow's eve, the Irish hollowed out Turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets. They placed a light in them to ward off evil spirits and keep Stingy Jack away. These were the original Jack O'Lanterns. In the 1800's a couple of waves of Irish immigrants came to America. The Irish immigrants quickly discovered that Pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve out. So they used pumpkins for Jack O'Lanterns.