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Rooting for rutabagas

Scandinavian cooking class will reveal the roots delicious flavors


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: ALBERTA SEIERSTAD  - Alberta Seierstad will teach a cooking class Sept. 28 on rutabagas. Included on the menu are from left, raw rutabagas with sour cream, cucumber and dill dip, Finnish three-meat ragout, Norwegian rutabaga salad and butter roasted rutabagas.

Being part Norwegian, I lik e to keep up with the events at the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation. The organization works diligently to keep the Scandinavian culture strong.

Among other events, the group offers Scandinavian cooking classes through its Cook & Eat program. This month’s cooking class caught my attention: Alberta Seierstad is going to share lore and treats of the rutabaga. Yes, rutabagas.

Alberta, who proudly shares that she is half Norwegian, about a quarter Swedish and a fraction Finnish, grew up in Cumberland, Wisc., which considers itself the Rutabaga Capital of the World. She said rutabaga was one of the first crops planted in the area, primarily for livestock feed, but people came to rely on the root for food, particularly during the Depression and following World War II when food was rationed.

Cumberland has held a festival celebrating the rutabaga since 1932. The festival includes a parade down Main Street with the Rutabaga Queen and court riding on a float, a midway with rides and food and other activities. In past years trucks full of rutabagas were included in the parade, and those on board chucked rutabagas to people watching the parade. As a child, Alberta remembers catching rutabagas and dodging them to avoid being thumped.

Alberta told me that rutabagas belong to the mustard family and are a cross between a turnip and a wild cabbage. They originated most likely in Scandinavia, Bohemia or Russia, with the first written account of the rutabaga dating back to 1620, when Swiss botanist Gaspard Bauhin noted that the wild roots were flourishing in Sweden.

Rutabagas get their name from the Swedish word rotabbagge, which means “round root” or “root bag.”According to the USDA, a cup of cooked rutabaga is lower in calories than potatoes (73 calories versus 170 for a medium potato) and lower in total carbohydrates (16 grams versus 37 grams). They can be eaten raw or cooked. So, why aren’t we eating them regularly? Root vegetables get stuck at the bottom of our food chain, I’m afraid. They are considered lowly peasant food; they lack color and pizzazz. Perhaps we don’t know how to cook them. I believe we might be missing out on a diamond in the rough, and that’s why I signed up for Alberta’s class.

Alberta will present her demonstration cooking class on Sept. 28 at 10 a.m. at Holladay Park Church of God, 2120 NE Tillamook St., Portland. The menu includes raw rutabagas with sour cream, cucumber and dill dip, Finnish three-meat ragout with butter roasted rutabagas, Norwegian rutabaga salad and chocolate rutabaga fudge. That’s right — fudge made with rutabagas. The cost is $10 for SHF members and $15 for nonmembers. Call the SHF office at 503-977-0275 to reserve a seat.

If you can’t make Alberta’s class, check out the rest of the Cook & Eat series. The class scheduled for Oct. 26 features Willi Galloway, author of “Grow Cook Eat: A Food Lover’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening.” The annual Christmas baking class will be held Nov. 23. This class is a pure treat — it is amazing what Scandinavians can do with butter, eggs and flour!

Take your dinner plate on a culinary adventure. Eating another culture’s authentic cuisine is the best way to learn about a country and people. Sign up for Alberta’s class and then try the recipes she shared today. The Bergen Easter Chicken is made with delicious gjetost cheese and should become a Sunday dinner favorite.

Bon appetit! Eat something wonderful!

Bergen Easter Chicken

(Stekt Paske Kylling from Norway)

Servings: 4

1 broiler fryer chicken, cut up (3 pounds) or 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 10 thighs)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup chicken broth or water

1/4 cup sherry or 2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup whipping cream

1 cup shredded gjetost (use only Ekte-type gjetost available at New Seasons, not Ski Queen) or aged cheddar or Jarlsberg cheese (about 4 ounces)

Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

If using whole chicken, cut it into pieces and remove the skin, then rub the chicken with salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken and brown on all sides.

Pour the broth or water over the browned chicken and add the sherry or lemon juice. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer chicken pieces with bones for about 35 to 45 minutes; simmer boneless pieces for 10 to 15 minutes. Simmer until the chicken is tender and the internal temperature is about 160 to 165 F.

Using a pair of tongs or a slotted spoon, remove chicken to a platter and keep warm. Add the chopped parsley and cream to the drippings in the pan. Stir or whisk constantly and bring the sauce to a simmer. Cook and stir until the sauce is reduced to about 1 cup and has a glazed appearance. Quickly stir in the cheese just until it is melted. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve.

(Recipe courtesy of Alberta Seierstad)

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281, ext. 100, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



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