a family of edible, bulbous, root vegetables grown widely throughout the whole
of Caelereth, but originating from
Northern Sarvonia, where they
still grow better than anywhere else. Although most children will refuse to eat
Neeps (for reasons best known to themselves), it is worthwhile persevering with
one's efforts, as the benefits to their health are manifold. Mainly used as
ingredients in hot, filling dishes, each variety also has a number of less
culinary uses. Each variety, excepting the Sweetneep (which is a cultivated form
only), has a smaller, wild cousin, but these are considered to be weeds, and are
wholly unsuitable for the pot.
Appearance. Each variety of Neep is sufficiently different in appearance that it is more efficacious to present them as individual entries.
The Furneep is mostly white-skinned, apart from the upper one to five nailsbreadths, which protrudes above the ground and is purple, red, or greenish-white, depending on the amount of sunlight which has fallen across it. The whole of the outside of this variety is covered in short, bristly hairs, almost resembling fur, and it is from this that it takes its name. The hairs are usually a lighter shade of the colour underlying them.
The above-ground part of the root develops from the stem, but grows down the length of the stem to join with the roots. The flesh of the Furneep is entirely white, and of a hard, crunchy texture when raw. The whole root is of a rough conical shape, which is sometimes described as being a 'squircle'. They can be from four nailsbreadths up to two palmspans across, and beneath the hairs are smooth-skinned, having no side roots in evidence. Their weight can be as much as two ods, although the larger specimens are less tasty and are commonly used as cattle-feed. The thin taproot which grows downwards from the bottom of the bulbous Neep can be one palmspan or more in length, and is usually trimmed off before cooking or marketing.
The leaves, which grow directly from the centre of the above-ground part of the Neep, are varying shades of green, covered in short, furry hairs, and are up to a fore in length. Starting as a narrow stem at the root, they widen to around four nailsbreadths at their widest, before narrowing again and ending in a slightly rounded tip and have a wavy appearance to their edges along their full length. They are sometimes eaten as 'Furneep Greens', and they resemble a peppery kail in their flavour. They are especially favoured in the more southerly regions of Northern Sarvonia, especially in autumn and winter. Varieties of Furneep have been bred by farmers in those regions which have masses of leaves but only a small root. These have become known as 'Celeste Kail'.
The Furneep produces a single stem of yellow flowers in late summer/early autumn. The flowers consist of three heart-shaped petals and are up to two nailsbreadths across. The stem from which they grow emerges from the middle of the leaves and grows to a height of roughly one ped, the top two palmspans of which holds numerous short side-shoots, each of which produces perhaps ten to twenty flowers. If left to run to seed, the root will no longer be edible. However, if this stem is removed during flowering, the root can be left in the ground even through winter, and will still be edible after the spring thaw.
In her dissertation "Neeps: The most beneficial of roots", Briar Tanglevine, hobbit herbalist and gardener, writes: "The benefits derived from Furneep husbandry are of great magnitude; light soils are cultivated with profit and facility; abundance of food is provided for man and beast; the earth is turned to the uses for which it is physically calculated, and by being suitably cleaned with this preparatory crop, a bed is provided for herb seeds, wherein they flourish and prosper with greater vigour than after any other preparation."
Sweetneeps ("Yellow Furneep")
The Sweetneep, or "Yellow Furneep" as it is sometimes called, originated many years ago as a cross between kail and the Furneep. Unlike the Furneep, however, the Sweetneep grows entirely underground, lacks the hairy jacket and coloured top of that root, and is of a slightly yellower hue. This colouration is continued through to the flesh, which has an altogether sweeter taste when cooked, hence its name.
This is by far the hardiest of the Neeps, capable of growing in even the coldest of climes. In many northern regions where tuberroot and grain crops have failed due to extremely harsh winters, or where war has ravaged the harvest, the Sweetneep has kept large populations sustained by its robust nature. Due to this, in some milder southern regions it has become known as "famine food", and as a consequence they are planted less often in these areas. Some people of a less polite disposition also refer to them as "Orcneeps", a derogatory name reflecting the abundance of Neeps used in northern cookery.
The leaves are similar to those of the Furneep, but lack the furry hairs and instead have a slightly waxy feel to them. They are equally as beneficial when prepared and eaten as those of the Furneep. The flowers, which appear in late summer, are like those of the Furneep, except in their colouration, which is of a softer, more buttery yellow. The stalk which carries the flowers is shorter than the Furneep, growing to no more than one and a half fores in height.
Pa's Neeps are a tough, creamy-white root, tapering somewhat from the crown (which is up to six nailsbreadths across), and reach up to a fore in length. If one pictures a large, yellowish carroot, then this is the Pa's Neep. The taste is described as being faintly sweet yet smoky.
Growing from the centre of the crown is an erect stem of between three to six palmspans in height. From this stem grow numerous yellowish-green leaf-stalks of about two palmspans in length. Each leaf is divided into several pairs of leaflets, each two to four nailsbreadths long, and up to two nailsbreadths wide. All the leaflets are finely toothed at their margins and softly hairy, especially on the underside.
As with the previous varieties, the flowers of the Pa's Neep are small, yellow, and grow in umbels at the end of a long stalk of between a fore and one ped in height.
Many farmers allow a portion of their crop to run to seed, as these contain an oil which is much used by herbmothers and the like for its medicinal qualities. The roots from these 'seeded' plants make excellent winter food for cattle.
Of all the varieties of Neep, the Pa's Neep has the most uses, including culinary, medicinal, and even the brewing of alcohol.
In another quote from her scroll on Neeps, Mistress Tanglevine says "The leaves of the Pa's Neep should be gathered whilst the plant is in bloom. If left till they have run to seed, the strength goes into the seed. Those who have a patch of ground will do well to raise the greatest number the space allows, and those who have not will do well to get them in quantities from some friend in the country, for apothecaries make a very great profit upon them.
Pa's Neep tea, made from the leaves, is useful as a medicine for the headache. for relieving the scurfee, or the gout. A poultice made from the mashed root is excellent for a fresh wound of any kind. Mix the mash with warm night-grape vinegar, wrap in a clean cloth and place immediately over the wound.
An infusion prepared from the flowers is good for sudden colds, and disorders on the lungs. It is necessary to be careful about exposure after taking it, as it is particularly opening to the pores. This same infusion mixed with honey is a cure for inveterate coughs.
Also known as "Neeproot", the Redneep is a firm, globe-shaped vegetable which bears little resemblance to the other Neeps, and is characterized by its dark purple skin and distinctive purple flesh.
Growing up to the size of a woman's clenched fist, the Redneep is the only Neep which can be safely eaten uncooked, the taste being somewhat earthy and sweet with a hint of smokiness. When raw, the texture is firm and crunchy, but when cooked this turns to a velvety smooth consistency.
Being slightly less hardy than its counterparts, the Redneep is more commonly grown in the mid to southern regions of Northern Sarvonia, and across almost the whole of Southern Sarvonia, excepting the very hottest regions, where it cannot flourish.
The shape of the Redneep resembles that of a slightly squashed globe, with its top bearing a slight indentation from which grow the leaves. These are smaller but infinitely more attractive than the other Neeps, being of a dark green hue with a lustrous sheen to them. The short stem which attaches each leaf to the root is of the brightest red, and this continues along the length of the leaf before fading nearer to the tip. The shape of the leaves is hard to describe, but resembles an elongated oak leaf, of up to two palmspans in length, with perhaps more lobes.
The flowers are borne on a short stalk of no more than three palmspans height, and are of a brilliant red colour. Each flower, of which there are many, grows from a thin stem which sprout along the last palmspan of the stalk. They consist of five heart-shaped petals which have deep red veins running from the throat out towards the tip.
As with the other Neeps, a single, thick taproot grows from the bottom of the vegetable, splitting occasionally into a thin sideroot. These can be anything up to a fore in length and should be removed before cooking.
The wild varieties of Neep originated in
Northern Sarvonia, where they
still grow today in such large numbers that they are considered as weeds.
Research has shown that they have been cultivated for many thousands of years,
being amongst the first food plants to be regularly used by the ancient tribes
of Sarvonia.Now cultivated widely
throughout the whole of Sarvonia, except in the hottest or driest regions, their
territory could indeed be said to be 'widespread'.
The Sweetneep, being the hardiest of the family, is an important part of the diet of the more northerly tribes of Northern Sarvonia, such as the Kaaer'dar'shin and the Remusians. North of the Themed'lon Forest, the short growing season and hostile climate mean that even the Sweetneep is unable to survive, and people living in these regions have to rely on trade for their Neeps.
The Furneep and Pa's Neep do not grow well in the northern regions, being more suited to the lands stretching from Naurooth in the East, to the Peninsula of Glandor in the West. They will, however, grow sufficiently well further South if they can be shaded from the sun for a few hours around mid-day, and plenty of cool rainwater or fresh river water can be provided for them. In the warmer southern areas of the North, the Redneep grows so well that farmers have to do no more than scatter the seed in spring, and gather the harvest in the autumn. They seem to thrive on being neglected, and will always reward the grower with a goodly crop.
In Southern Sarvonia, the growing of the Sweetneep is almost impossible, except in rare instances at high altitudes. The Furneep and Pa's Neep can be grown successfully in many areas, except where the heat is constant. The Redneep grows very well in all regions, as long as fresh, cool water can be provided each day.
Usages. Probably due to the length of time man has been growing Neeps, a wide variety of uses have been found for these versatile vegetables. Some of the uses listed here are shared by all varieties, whilst some are specific to one type or other.
By far the most common use for the Neeps is as a filling, nourishing foodstuff. Cooking is usually done by peeling, boiling in water, and then mashing the soft root, although some people cut them into chunks and add them to stews and broths. The Neeproot can be peeled and eaten raw, and unlike the other types of Neep, no ill effects such as stomach cramps will be felt.
The Furneep and Sweetneep are especially tasty when cooked and mashed together with carroots, the flavours helping to enhance each other. This makes a tasty treat when served with roasted bear and gravy, a dish popular in Northern Sarvonia.
The Pa's Neep is perhaps the most versatile of the Neeps for the cook, and each region seems to have its own special way of preparing them for the table: Along with the other Neeps, it can be added to stews, broths, or braises. It is excellent when boiled and mashed, served alone or with carroots, and topped with a chunk of butter. If a child is loathe to eat vegetables, one might peel and thinly slice the root from top to bottom, roast and baste with butter until golden brown, then serve with meat and gravy. Another tasty snack is Crispy Pa's Neeps. Peel and thinly slice the root across its length. Drop these circles of Neep into hot oil and fry until golden and crispy. Sprinkle with a little salt or honey, and serve hot. Delicious! Pa's Neeps can even be combined with sugar and spices in a pastry crust and used as a sweet pie, which in poorer households is often used for birthday celebrations.
For centuries, brewers have made a cheap ale from the Neeps, but more recently they have attracted the attentions of the wine-makers of Southern Sarvonia. With delicate blending and the addition of a few secret ingredients (mainly herbs), both white and red wines are now being produced which are said to rival even those made from the ar'o'bejon berries of the vine-fields of Masterbard Judith herself.
The leaves of all varieties can be eaten raw or boiled and chopped and eaten alone or added to stews and soups. Children especially like the leaves of the Sweetneep coated in sugar and butter, then quickly fried in hot oil.
Due to their bright red stems, the leaves of the Redneep make a colourful addition to any salad, and their smoky, peppery taste means no other seasoning is required.
The Remusians of the North-Eastern Icelands use the leaf of the Sweetneep in a popular traveler's snack called "Saltneep Pie". A healthy sized piece of salted fish is wrapped around with a whole leaf to make a small parcel. This is then fried in melted fat and left to cool. The resulting 'pie' will stay fresh for up to a week, and provides the traveler with a nutritious meal which doesn't take up any room in his pack.
Another popular snack, traditionally enjoyed by farmers or field-workers, is the "Pasty". Any leftover scraps of meat and vegetables, especially Neeps, are wrapped inside a thick pastry case which is then sealed and flattened into a rough half-circle shape. Baked until golden brown, the pasty will stay warm for hours (a great pleasure for the hands on cold mornings), or can even be eaten cold.
As well as being a valuable plant for the cook, likewise herbmothers and apothecaries have found many uses for the various parts of the Neep plants.
The seeds of the Pa's Neep contain an oil which, when ingested in prescribed dosages, can aid in the correction of stomach and bowel disorders, sleeplessness, and stiffness of the joints. A strong decoction of the root assists in the removal of obstructions of the bowel, and has proved useful in the treatment of butter-skin sickness and gravel of the kidneys.
Considering the robust good-health enjoyed by folk who eat Neeps as a large part of their diet, it is not beyond reason to suppose that the roots contain goodly amounts of substances valuable to the body's well-being. This seems to be particularly evident in the Furneep.
After boiling Neeps, the water is usually allowed to cool and then given to small children as a drink. Small babies will become more robust, less prone to the night-terrors, and may even suffer less from tooth-growing pains. Older children who take Furneep water regularly will have fewer health problems such as Winter colds and melancholy.
The Redneep has all the health-giving properties of the other Neeps, to a greater or lesser degree, but has a couple of medicinal uses unique to itself.
If eaten regularly, not only will your general health be much improved, but the substance which gives the root its rich purple colouration is said to help the blood move more vigourously about the body, thus keeping each part of the body healthier and stronger, even into old age.
This same substance is also thought to help the body expel impurities and so help the stomach and bowels to function with greater ease.
Another use for the Redneep has begun to gain in popularity of late. Women of the less affluent regions who cannot afford the expensive make-up seen on the faces of well-to-do women have taken to using the juice squeezed from the root as a cheap alternative. By adding varying amounts of water to the juice, many shades of lip-colour can be created. A fingertip dipped into the dye and brushed gently acros the lips gives them a fuller, more attractive appearance. If truphull oil is used instead of water, the colour is easier to apply, and tends to last longer before needing to be re-done.
A very pale pink dye can be used to bring a blush to the cheeks, but this must be used sparingly or the wearer risks appearing like a character from a Black Butterfly pantomime!
Some women have experimented with using Redneep juice as a hair dye, but results seem to be dubious at best, as the hair tends to stick together into clumps as the dye dries out.
One final use for the Redneep is as a dye. When crushed and pulped, the root will release a deep purple juice, so deep, in fact, that it appears almost nor'sidian. Using varying amounts of water to dilute this juice, dyes of almost every shade of red can be made, from darkest purple to the softest pink. The colours obtained from this dye are bright, do not fade easily, and will withstand washing for longer than most other dyes. After soaking the cloth in the dye, washing it in a tub of clean, cold salt-water will ensure that the colour is set in the cloth.
Along with the wild varieties of Neeps, any larger cultivated roots (which tend to be too bitter tasting to be of use in the kitchen), make excellent winter food for cattle. Likewise any damaged or over-ripe roots can be saved and fed to cows, pigs or sheep when other fodder is scarce.
Finally, presented here for your delectation are receipts collected from the various regions of Sarvonia:
Boar's Head with Celeste Kail
You will need: Half a
Boars-head, a large handful of toasted wheat grain, salt to taste, two
handfuls of celeste kail greens, three flaggons of water.
To each half-pail of
water allow one large spoonful of salt.
Pa's Neep Pie
You will need 8 to 10
Pa's Neeps, 1 onyon, 5 spoons of butter or aise, the peel of 2 bittersweet
fruits, a small spoon of bitternut, a finger-pinch of pepper, a flaggon of
Cross-pollination by insects is the usual method of reproduction for all
varieties of Neep. The small flowers produce large amounts of pollen throughout
the summer months, and sometimes the weight of
malises and butterflies atop each flower stalk is enough to bend it over,
almost touching the soil.
In the frozen lands of the far North, however, this method is almost useless, as very few insects can survive the bitter temperatures of these regions. The Neeps must, therefore, rely on the wind to spread their pollen. Most farmers in these areas cannot afford to put their trust in nature at these times, and will pick flowers from each plant and rub them across the flowers of the neighbouring plants, just to ensure that pollination takes place.
In late Sleeping Dreameress and early Fallen Leaf, the flowers will have been replaced by bulging seed-heads. If left unpicked, the seeds will remain in place over winter, before falling in early Molten Ice. This is a dangerous practice, however, as the seeds are full of goodness, and birds or small mammals such as mice or rats will quickly gobble them up as food becomes scarce during the freezing winter months. Farmers will usually gather the seeds early, and store them in a cool, dry area where they will continue to ripen. It appears that far from damaging the seeds as it does with most plants, the severe frosts of the northern regions actually help the Neep seeds to germinate successfully.
Myth/Lore. It is a common belief throughout the tribes of Northern Sarvonia that the smell of raw Neeps will frighten off any evil spirits who try to enter their homes or meddle with their crops. When the larger Neeps have ripened, the very largest ones are selected and taken into the home where the children will cut off the tops, hollow out the flesh inside (which is used in the kitchen; waste not, want not) with a spoon, and then carve faces of animals through the remaining flesh.
The parents will then place small stubs of candle inside each Neep, and hang them outside the doors and windows to serve as a warning to the spirits. On certain nights of the year, when the spirits are said to be particularly active, the children will go around the local farmers fields with their lamps held high on sticks, scaring away any evil spirits trying to ruin the harvest. After a couple of turns around each field, the farmer's wife will hand out sweet Pa's Neep crisps which she has made fresh that day, as a thank-you to the children.
The name Pa's Neep is thought to originate from the children of the first people to grow it as a food crop. Disliking the bitter taste of the ancient, wild varieties, they refused to eat them. In an effort to convince them of the benefits of the Neeps, their fathers would eat vast amounts whilst trying to prise a spoonful between firmly shut lips. Gradually, the childrens response to their mother's pleas to eat the root became "I can't eat those, Mother. Them's Pa's Neeps, them is."