Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rutabagas for Mardi Gras

Friends Elton and Joyce Raby with me in the middle.

Tuesday was Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday. It was an extra-special Mardi Gras for me. No parades, no beads, moon pies, doubloons or Fat Tuesday excess.

Instead, husband Walter and I spent a wonderful few hours visiting special friends in Hattiesburg, MS, my birthplace and my late mother’s home for most of her adult life.

Elton and Joyce Raby had invited us for lunch. It was a chance to continue a long-standing tradition shared by the Rabys and my parents. For several decades, the two couples shared a weekly fish fry and fixings, alternating between the Raby and Carpenter homes.

The weekly get-togethers continued for more than two more decades after my father passed away. Even when Mother was no longer able to cook or to drive, Mr. Raby would pick her up at the Provisions Living retirement community and transport her back to their home for that traditional meal.

About every third time Mother would treat the Rabys to lunch at a local eatery, sometimes a favorite restaurant, other times a visit to a new establishment they all three wanted to try. This wonderful couple enriched my mother’s life.  The Raby’s, their children and their grandchildren were dear to her.

As time went on, the fish on the menu was sometimes baked or broiled as changing dietary restrictions mandated.

The side dishes might also vary depending on the season and what was growing in Mr. Raby’s garden. If adult children or grandchildren were in town, they were likely to be included in the festive occasion.

Mardi Gras day Mrs. Raby had recreated a typical meal Mother would have prepared: fried fish, cole slaw, fresh green beans, potatoes, cornbread and iced sweet tea.

There was also one other side dish. Mrs. Raby had cooked rutabagas. She reminisced about how Mother would often buy the root vegetable and cook it for them to go with the fish.

She also recounted her first attempt to cook rutabagas after eating them at Mother’s. Her preparation included cubing them instead of cutting thin slices.

“It tasted awful,” she said. “I didn’t realize the way I cut them up would make a difference.”

She has since thoroughly mastered the technique for making the dish a tasty experience, and I was not shy about taking generous additional helpings.
I didn’t eat rutabaga growing up. Oh, Mother cooked it, and she and Daddy loved this vegetable. But I don’t remember if I had ever even tasted it. As a headstrong child, I could well have refused to eat it without ever letting a bite pass my lips.

As an adult I eventually became more willing to taste new things, and the chance to taste one of my mother’s favorite veggies Tuesday was not to be passed up. The rutabagas were delicious. The appearance was attractive, an almost translucent, muted orange. The texture was pleasing. The taste was slightly sweet with a hint of the flavor of cabbage, which I like. Mr. Raby said they remind him more of turnip roots, another dish I need to become better acquainted with.

This Mardi Gras was filled with good food, a continuation of two families’ joint tradition and a chance to revisit joyful shared memories and make new memories.

Thank you, Rabys!


  1. This is just wonderful. These folks sound like the kind of friends that are more like family than friends. So glad you enjoyed yourself.

  2. How nice of them to continue the tradition! I have never tasted rutabagas, but would be game to try it. Glad you enjoyed Mardi Gras.

  3. I think your mom would have loved to read this and know about your visit! I have never tasted rutabagas, not being as tastefully adventurous as you are.

  4. I agree with Sally. These people are like family. It sounds like you had a great time with lots of memories shared.
    I didn't taste rutabagas till I was in my 60's. Funny how childhood prejudices carry through life.

  5. a wonderful day with friends, nothing better. mother always had fried fish, hush puppies and baked beans, and our rutabagas she cut them up like they were potatoes and cooked them with bacon grease and then mashed them like potatoes. i loved them then and now. they are really hard to cut up as i found when i tried to copy mother.

  6. Linda, you do look wonderful! I've never eaten rutabagas either and don't plan to change that any time soon.

  7. Oh we ate tons of rutabega turnips. I thought they stunk, or is that stinked?

    I got hungry on the fried fish, green beans, cornbread and sweet tea your mom that's cooking. Dianne

  8. This post reminds me of "the good ole' days", when more people spent quality time together :) I've never tried rutabegas, but Ed loves them...perhaps I'm missing out??

  9. I guess I'm with the majority of the comments. I really don't think I have had Rutabagas either. I'm willing to try but I have a Hubby who's very stuck in his ways. That's one reason I like to eat out on occasions. I get to order fish and many things that Dave isn't fond of.
    Terrific picture of you and the lovely friends.
    How beautiful for you to keep up the traditions of your Mom.