Have you heard of salsify?  Until a few years ago, I thought it was probably a herb and had paid it no attention.  These days it is on our list of favourite vegetables.  I would go as far as to say that I will grow salsify instead of carrots in future.

According to my go-to vegetable manual, scorzonera and salsify are related vegetables rarely grown in the UK but very popular in France and Italy.  Victorians liked them.  I like them.   They taste good and they are easy to grow with no particular pests, diseases or fussiness about conditions.

The plant looks a bit like spring onions on top and parsnippy below.  In April last year I planted a row of seeds at the same time as parsnip and golden beetroot.  The salsify germinated strongly and hasn’t been particularly fussy about watering whereas, you might remember, the parsnip and beetroot both failed in that bed.  Even so, I probably planted the seeds too thickly, so next time I’ll space them about 15cm apart. 

After nearly a year of growing, my plants have only recently reached a harvestable size – perhaps because they were too thickly sown in poor soil.  Still, they haven’t come out all twisted and forked, the way carrots would if the soil wasn’t soft enough.  I have found that harvesting is best done in the same way as parsnips – take a big garden fork and jam it into the soil beside the row, then lever it sideways until the roots lift upwards.  You’re trying to loosen the roots enough so that you can grasp them by the foliage and wiggle them out gently.   Like parsnips, the foliage will snap off easily if you don’t get it right, and then you’ll have a real challenge. 

With this year’s plants I will try something extra – I have read that one can earth up the plants in autumn and harvest a delicious chicory-like leaf in spring.  I’ll try that with half the plants, just in case. 

Tastewise, we like salsify better than parsnip.  They don’t have the same earthy taste, just a delicate nuttiness.  Some say oysters, but I wouldn’t know.   For cooking, the general advice is to treat them like other root vegetables and so far I have mashed them and baked them with some success.  Someone suggested to me that it would go well in a stew and I think they may be right.  Be warned, though, that you need to drop them into acidulated water as soon as you peel them, just as you would for celeriac, because they turn from milk-white to brown in seconds. 

In other news, rhubarb now in full swing, the asparagus is just starting and there are plenty of parsnips and spinach left.  However, the sprouting broccoli has inadvisedly sagged outside its cage and caught the attention of…. the wood pigeons….dammit.  

Text and Images (C) Claire @theslowfix A slow food devotee, Claire is constantly searching for new ways to enable us all to live sustainably.

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