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The Gilfeather Turnip Festival:
Celebrating the Lowly Tuber
in Wardsboro, Vermont
By Amy Kleppner

New England is full of festivals. They range from A to Z—apples to zucchini,
with garlic, maple sugar, pumpkins, strawberries, and just about every other
fruit and vegetable in between.  

Wardsboro, Vermont’s Gilfeather Turnip Festival is special: it celebrates
the tuber that originated in the town  (population under 900) and is one of only
two vegetables registered as an heirloom variety by the state.

The festival takes place the end of October every year. Admission is free.
Lunch, including Gilfeather Turnip Soup, is available. Also for sale: organic
produce, turnips, craft items, and special turnip-themed products: tee shirts,
postcards, Gilfeather Turnip videos and DVD’s, and a new publication, The
Gilfeather Turnip Cookbook & Other Recipes Rooted in Wardsboro.  

A popular feature of the festival every year is the free tasting of turnip
delicacies from 2 to 4 p.m. You’ll be amazed at what talented local cooks have
done with the lowly turnip. In the past they have offered a variety of turnip
delicacies, including turnip bread, carrot and turnip cake, mashed potatoes
and turnips, and other unusual  turnip treats.  

The local turnip is apparently—its history is somewhat mysterious -- the
descendent of a sweet, white German turnip. It became part of Wardsboro
history when John Gilfeather started growing them on his hillside farm in the
early 1900s. He developed a unique product, probably through hybridization.
He planted many rows of turnips and sold them by the cartload in Brattleboro,
Northampton, and other markets, but he kept the seeds to himself. He cut off
the tops and bottoms of his turnips so that no one else could reproduce them.

Over the years Gilfeather turnips have found their way into countless stews,
sauces, and soups. They are often boiled and mashed in with the potatoes, and
according to Wales Read, some people like to cut them into thin slices and eat
them raw. Local Brit Shine noted that deer also appreciate a good turnip, and
Carol Backus, present owner of Gilfeather Farm, has found deer eating not only
the green tops but the roots of her turnips as well.  

Despite praise from Greg Parks, the Gilfeather turnip’s  humble origin and
lowly status may overshadow its fame as a gourmet delicacy. Beatrice Read
recalled that on the family farm they raised them by the bushel, ground them
up, and fed them to the cows. “It made the milk taste a little funny,” she said,
“but you got used to it.”

Click Here for Gilfeather Turnip Recipes

About the author
Amy Kleppner is a retired English teacher
who now lives in Wardsboro, Vermont.
She is the author of a manual for high
school students, Research Paper Procedure,
and also wrote the text for a pictorial history
of the town, Wardsboro, VT: Exposing
the Past. She devotes her time to other
writing projects and to the Friends of the
Wardsboro Library, who help sustain
the town's public library. She also
frequently leads local hikers astray
on hikes in the neighboring hills.
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