Food and Drink

Old-Fashioned Favorite

Snowman’s school is having a multi-cultural Thanksgiving potluck at school tomorrow, and each student was asked to bring a dish their family eats at the holiday.

His contribution will be something we don’t know how to spell, for which we have no recipe, but which is the defining "old-fashioned favorite" holiday dish in his dad’s family.

In my mind it has always been spelled "rutmousse," but it turns out there is no such word. It is a fabulous confluence of mashed rutabaga and potatoes, with so much butter and half-and-half added it could bring on a heart attack at ten paces.

I decided to go hunting for its origin and finally found something.

My late mother-in-law was the daughter of Swedish immigrants.  Her older sister picked out her name, Virginia, because it sounded American. Their parents pronounced it "Veer-yin-yuh!" She was determinedly American, rejecting all things Swedish. But when she grew up, she began to see the charm of her heritage. The lovely painted horses were an important decoration in her home, paper Swedish flags adorned the Christmas tree, and with her husband she adapted some of the recipes of childhood.

My former father-in-law loves to cook. When they lived in the New York suburbs, he took cooking classes with James Beard. For many years they owned a gourmet shop in New Jersey, and he would return from his job at IBM to teach classes of his own in the evening.

Together they created the dish I first ate early on in my relationship with their son, The Father of My Children. It involved the peeling of frighteningly large and alarmingly waxed rutabagas. There were times early in our marriage that I looked for other ways to dress up holiday mashed potatoes, but the rutmousse always returned.

Now it is an expectation. It’s not Thanksgiving without rutmousse.

Which is really rotmos.

Which, omigosh, is something you can buy in a box. Appalling!

When I read the recipe to my sister-in-law, she first asked, "No cream?" and then exclaimed, "They Frenchified it!!" We laughed and laughed. They had taken the humble pork knuckle with mashed swedes and potatoes and added the elements that, to them, connoted sophistication.

Tonight the kitchen is full of the tart fragrance of very fresh rutabagas from the fancy healthy grocery store and the cheerful sound of potatoes at a rolling boil. A carton of half-and-half and a stick of butter await their sacrificial duty.  This dish, however you spell it, speaks to us of comfort and home and
the way things have always been, even if they never really were that
way at all.

25 thoughts on “Old-Fashioned Favorite”

  1. Rotmos. Man, that makes me happy. I can’t wait to be home.
    Oh, and since I forgot to mention it on the phone, guess who got an A on his essay on Ulysses? This guy.

  2. I’ve never heard of rotmos before, but just reading this post makes me smile. Isn’t it funny how certain foods are so much a part of who we are?

  3. I have never heard of that dish but anything with ral butter in it has got to be wonderful.
    ~laffin~ We are having bar-b-qued ribs.

  4. I have never eaten an rutabaga. What do they taste like?
    Our classic, native dishes are so midwestern–containing Jello and marshmallows. Many contain both!

  5. This sounds interesting.
    My grandmother always made lime jello with cottage cheese and chicken. Chicken. Bleah.
    I’ll take marshmellows any day in my jello over chicken.

  6. Forgot to say to #1 Son: I think Ulysses is complex and difficult to write about. So congratulations on that A! That’s worth celebrating.

  7. When my sister-in-law and her husband were on the Atkins diet a few Thanksgivings ago, they made “mock” mashed potatoes with rutabagas and cauliflower. This must be the origin of that idea.

  8. Is there any veg that can be made yummy by the addition of taters, butter and cream?
    This sounds fascinatingly yummy.
    In our family, the magical foods are the cornbread dressing and the giblet gravy.
    (And why all this fuss over an essay about a chubby dead President buried in New York? Whatever, bravo #1) 🙂

  9. This dish sounds dee-licious!
    I can’t say I’ve ever tried it, but you can bet the next time we have a turkey dinner, it will be on our table!

  10. Rutabaga! Those are stories, not vegetables!!
    Clearly I need to expand my horizons.
    We will have candied yams (for Brandon which I will NOT TOUCH), bread dressing (for me, which NO ONE ELSE will touch), mashed potatoes (which we ALL LOVE!).
    Oh, maybe some turkey. Maybe. 🙂

  11. Hurrah for the A on Ulysses, a story I have a soft spot for as Ulysses was the first book I read in college, and I spent the semester thinking “gosh, college is a lot harder than HS” without thinking “gee, maybe this course is not right for a first semester student”
    And hurrah for family traditions…what neat weavings of generations and families.

  12. Susan, when two English majors spawn, I guess it’s only right they produce a child who can get an A on his Ulysses paper. I think I wrote one about Molly Bloom, but it’s all a bit vague. And if it was an A paper, I’m sure it was marked down to a C- for being turned in late.
    #1 Son, fortunately, used my seminary career as a model for academic life, not my undergraduate stories.

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