The turnip (Brassica rapa) belongs to the mustard (Brassicaceae) family that also includes cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprout and radish. Brassica rapa has several subspecies including bok choi, pak choi, and tat so. It is a biennial producing a strong root stock the first year and flowers and seeds the second year. The flowers are yellow and the seeds are produced in pea-like pods. The large leaves are smooth, soft, and deeply lobed. Like other members of the family, turnip is a cool weather crop.
In The Merry Wives of Windsor ( act iii, sc. 4, 89) when Mistress Page reveals her choice of a husband for her daughter Anne, Anne replies:
Alas! I had rather be set quick i’the earth
And boul’d to death with Turnips
Turnips were domesticated before the 15th century BC and were known to both the Greeks and Romans. The Roman word for turnip was napus which became neeps in middle English and took on the prefix tur- in the sixteenth century, perhaps because of their round shape as though turned on a lathe. They were grown primarily as food in Shakespeare’s time although their value for fodder was known and gaining in popularity .