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turnips, planting, cooking, cow-feed, tea, remedies, potatoes, Pennsylvania Dutch dialect


Handwritten manuscript entitled, "Turnips", compiled by Victor C. Dieffenbach, dated July 20, 1953. Within, Dieffenbach details how turnips are best planted, when to harvest them and explains how turnip-tops can be used in cow-feed. He also recounts superstitions related to turnips.

Corresponds to:

Packet 577-214-1 to 577-214-6


Turnips! – “De Reeva!”

There used to be a trite saying, viz. – “Wos wockst em bauer uff em schwontz?” (What grows for the famer on its tail?) The reply – “En reeb! — (A turnip). This is another instance where the translation into English forces the comic part off of the stage. “Uff em schwontz” (on the tail) means the tail of the turnip, although not specifically so stated; but to translate the Dutch saying as an English-man might, would be an entirely different matter.

Anyway, turnips didn’t have tails, but they do have top-roots, and that was the appendage referred to. While a few turnips may be grown in the garden for convenience, yet the major part of the crop is grown by sowing the seed in the cornfield, following the final cultivation.

Dad would take a wash basin – “de wesh-shissel,” and put in a quart or so of fine soil; then he would pour over it about a cup full of turnip seed, and thoroughly mix it; then this was broad-cast. In this manner, the seed would cover a greater acreage, and the turnips would be scattered all over the field. In a wet season they would grow to an enormous size. He would always sow the Purple top whether flat or globular. Late in the Fall, after the corn had been cut and put in shocks, then the turnips would grow, the warm late sunshine forcing them to unbelievable proportions. Turnips are not good until they have a good frost; so we would take a wagon and fetch in a load, tops and all, and dump them on the barn floor. A second load was left on the wagon. After supper we went out, and by the light of a sooty lantern we would cut off all those tops, and throw them down through the hay-hole into the feed entry – “darrich's hoy luch nunner in der fooder-goug.” The turnips we put in bags for market; the very small, the damaged, and the monstrosities went with the tops. After we were finished Dad took the lantern and started for the house, and left me and the hired girl to feed the tops to the cows, by the light of the silvery moon. I still have lots of faith in the drawing power or the attractive force of the moon. The farther back we went for more tops the darker it got, and the closer the girl seemed to be; and she was – she was afraid in the dark. We stumbled over a big turnip, we fell head over heels into those tops (and you may not know, the underside is rough and prickly) of course I mean the leaves. But this was now all nice and smooth, and soft and warm and lovely. To my dying day I cannot tell if all the cows got some turnip tops or not. But I do know that when we finally got out of there we both knew a lot more about — no, not about turnips, but about life than when we went in. The next day the cows looked all right, and so did we; and that way we all continued to be. But every time that I looked at that old moon, he seemed to be laughing; and one time I actually thought I saw him wink. But he never told.

Turnips make a tasty dish if they are peeled and sliced paper-thin, and salted and left to stand in a cool place for a while. But boiled with the shank of a ham or a piece of smoked-beef —oh boy! Turnips, as well as the tops, are good cow-feed, but care must be taken that a milking-cow does not get too many, or it will flavor the milk. However, if they are fed late in the evening, after milking, the cow’s digestion will take care of the rest, and no ill after-results will follow.

If too much are fed at one time they may cause bloating. Turnips are so easy to raise that I will not describe any mode of culture. I have sown the seed in the beginning of September and had some marketable turnips in late October and early November. And did they sell? Nobody else seemed to have any, and most everybody wanted some for a change in the menu, or for a surprise meal.

Tea made by scalding turnip tops was used in dropsical and kidney ailments; if one got chilled the best remedy was to steam a lot of turnip-tops (or the peelings from the roots could be used) in an emergency; these would be squeezed until most of the moisture was removed, and the patient was there swathed with the hot poultice (or what one would call it) covered with lots of bedding and left to his own devices. The resulting sweating would remove the germs and whatever foreign elements or evil spirits would inhabit the body of the victim.

While the author does not want to argue about the efficacy of the foregoing treatment, yet there are devious ways of arriving at the same result, and much more congenial to his needs, wants, likes, or desires; a concoction of rye and sugar, plus a certain percentage of water, will give the same relief.

If a turnip was thrown at or after a bride on her wedding day, especially before the ceremony, it presaged bad luck in their marital relations. If a woman was pregnant, the saying would be – “See gookt os won see tsu feel reeva gfressa het!” (She looks as if she ate too many turnips!” Or one might say – “See hut en reeb cot os der schwontz nuch draw waur!” (She had a turnip that still had a tail!)

I remember hearing the name – “Der reeva- bauer!” (The turnip farmer) but cannot recollect who he was, or why so called; but undoubtedly he well-deserved the title.

Grandmother would tell of the time when they had hardly any potatoes; nobody had many, for the crop had been a failure from some cause she did not disclose. None could be bought in those days. So the farmers sowed turnip seed very late, and a wet Fall gave them a good yield. She used to say how they would boil one or two potatoes in a kettle full of turnips. She said they were good enough and could be supplemented with cabbage, parsnips, etc. “Owver mer hut nix cot fer tsu broada!” (But one had none to fry) she would say. But one day there came good news; a man – a farmer from the Conestoga region in Lancaster county came with six mules in a big heavy wagon loaded with potatoes. He had heard of the poor people’s plight from a traveling peddler – a Jew; having had a wonderful crop of potatoes himself, and some of his neighbors also had plenty, he got a load together, and came overland with his precious cargo in the “Prarie Schooner,” as they were later called. He would sell a bushel or so to a family according to their needs; then he gave them some small ones for seed. And then he admonished these back-woodsmen not to plant all of them at one time, but to have several successive plantings, so that if some failed to make a crop, the other patch might be more opportune as to zodiacal signs or climatic conditions. The way she told this tale she must have been in her teens at the time, for she would conclude by saying – “Selly grumbeera sin gawoxa; un 's hut unfergleichlicha grumbeera gevva! Un er hut so en schainer boo by sich cot fer schparra; un see waura by en Pap ivver-nacht!” (Those potatoes grew, and it gave potatoes that were incomparable! And he had such a nice boy along to brake for him; and they were over night at my father’s house!) and then in spite of herself she would color up to a beautiful pink and leave us young fry to imagine the rest. “Owver see waura goota leid”— (but they were good folks) she would say.

July 20th, 1953

Der Aldt Bauer


Signed in Dieffenbach's pen name of "Der Oldt Bauer" (The Old Farmer).


English and Pennsylvania German

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Dieffenbach on Turnips, July 20th, 1953



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