Botanical Name: Brassica napus var. napobrassica
At a grocery store or farmers market, rutabagas are almost always sold with a thin coating of paraffin, a food-safe wax that is easily removed with a carrot peeler or paring knife.
Why wax? Mature rutabagas are bulbing root structures full of moisture, and during months of storage and transportation in unregulated temperatures, humidity and light, much of this moisture otherwise evaporates, causing an unappetizing product.
Home gardeners, on the other hand, may choose several other ways of storing and preserving rutabagas even if they don’t want to prepare a paraffin coating (the process is a bit messy). In the right conditions rutabagas can last five or six months.
First, rutabaga storage can simply take place in the ground. Rutabagas mature in mid- to late-autumn and can be left in the dirt through several light frosts and until the temperature gets to 20° F. or below and the ground starts to freeze. In-ground storage is best in the short term because the flavor actually improves with cold, and the moisture and light levels are just right.
As outdoor temperatures get to the 20° F. mark, get ready to harvest the remaining rutabagas and prepare them for storage elsewhere. Just trim off any remaining long tap root, leaving the thick bulb, and then trim the greens off about an inch above the rutabaga crown. Those greens can be washed, chopped, and added to soups or stews. The rutabagas themselves are good to roast or to boil and mash. Now the rutabagas, minus taproot and tops, are about the size of a softball or a small grapefruit.
The best conditions for home rutabaga storage are moist but not wet, and cold but not freezing. Specifically, humidity should be in the 90-95 percent humidity range and temperatures about 32-35° F. Note that refrigerators are too dry for storing rutabagas without a wax coating, so you will need to employ a wood box or a barrel as a simple root cellar, unless you already have a root cellar built.
A wooden box or barrel for root storage needs plenty of soft material for insulation and to keep moisture levels high enough. And that container will need to be buried most of the way underground, with just an opening left above ground, so rutabagas don’t get exposed to light.There’s no need to wash the rutabagas first; just dust off excess dirt.
Put a layer of sand or moistened peat moss in the box, place the rutabagas in next – leaving space in between for some air circulation – and cover with a layer of burlap sacks filled with more sand or moist peat moss. Air circulation, in addition to proper moisture and temperature, is crucial so rutabagas don’t get moldy and spoil.
If you are lucky enough to have a proper root cellar already, pack rutabagas in boxes with sand, straw, or peat moss, and make sure nothing is sitting directly in water.
Finally, rutabagas can be frozen and kept for six months to a year. Be sure to peel them and either chop into cubes, then blanch rutabagas in boiling water before freezing to stop enzyme action, or boil and mash them and store in plastic boxes or bags.