Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Blood from a Turnip

Turnip along the side of a road
I’m not sure of the origin, “You can’t get blood out of a turnip.” Some sources seem to believe that the phrase originates from the Bible myth of Cain and Abel when Cain is punished for giving the deity sacrifice in the form of crops but Abel gives in the form of meat or shedding the blood of an animal. Charles Dickens wrote in his novel David Copperfield “Blood cannot be obtained from a stone.”  There are similar phrases using a stone instead of a turnip. In either case, the meaning of the phrase usually refers to a stingy individual who refuses to give money, time or kindness to a particular cause or person. 

Turnip greens are a common food in the south and usually cooked in pork fat. The greens are high in vitamin K which is known as “the clotting vitamin” and is not recommended for people who take blood thinners. The turnip itself is starchy and has somewhat of a peppery taste. It has a much thicker skin than a potato. Turnips are difficult to cut with a knife and boiling them takes a long time. The whole plant is nutritious and can provide significant calories. 
   
The resilient turnip can be found almost anywhere up and down the east coast. I have been travelling back and forth from western North Carolina to Pennsylvania for the past few weeks and see the little yellow heads of turnips all along the way. I even saw a turnip coming up in the middle of parking lot coming up between broken pieces of pavement.

Because turnips are so common, during the Middle Ages turnips were associated with poorer classes. Peasants were the only people who would dig in the ground for food which also included garlic, leeks, onions and shallots. Knights and clerics would have been viewed as desperate to dig for a turnip. A fourteenth century German proverb exemplified the belief in the saying, “Let the lowborn dig turnips.” More contempt for the poor exists can be found in the Medieval Latin proverb, “Why do you seize another’s property? Can’t you feed yourself on turnips?” This ideology would be equivalent to asking poor Americans why they can’t just grow their own food and be content without government assistance for food.

(Previous paragraph's information was gathered from: “Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales: The Medieval Latin Past of Wonderful Lies”)