(85 days) Open-pollinated. This white-fleshed heirloom has put Wardsboro, Vt., (population 900) on the culinary map. Every October, Wardsboro hosts a festival at which Gilfeather is served in all the dishes. It was either developed or discovered by John Gilfeather (1865-1944) of Wardsboro in the late 1800s. He sold them by the cartload in Brattleboro, Vt., and Northhampton, Mass., in the early 1900s. Although the lanky and secretive Gilfeather is said to have cut the tops and bottoms off his turnips so no one else could propagate them, some seeds escaped—to market growers William and Mary Lou Schmidt, who salvaged, multiplied and commercialized them.
After a New England-based seed saver wrote us to inquire about the genetic lineage of this beloved variety, we chatted with Will Bonsall about whether Gilfeather is a rutabaga or the result of a backcrossing. “The rutabaga is an interspecific hybrid cross of true turnip, Brassica rapa, with the wild colewort …B. oleracea,” said Will. He elaborated that a backcrossing between a rutabaga and a turnip is very unlikely, making Gilfeather, “a somewhat more primitive and unrefined rutabaga unlike the more highly bred, more even-shaped varieties.”
Sweeter and later to mature than other rutabagas, not woody even at softball size, and taste better after frost. “Smooth, sweet, silky—we love it mashed with carrots and a small potato,” said Susan Lowry of Fryeburg, Maine. Amy Burke of York, Maine, suggested adding Gilfeather to our season-extending greens list. At the end of January she found them even hardier than Red Russian and Beedy’s Camden kales. Listed on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste. Cold-hardy. ①