Wellington Fields Allotments - Hixon.
– An Old Fashioned Root Vegetable.
year I tried starting a lot of my seeds off in seed boxes and cell trays
with varying success. It was always said by the old time gardeners that
you couldn’t transplant root vegetable seedlings, but never the less I
tried it with some beetroot seedlings and had great success. However,
the Scorzonera seedlings did not give the same results. Perhaps the
beetroot were O.K. as they didn’t have long, tapering, roots unlike
the Scorzonera that are more like a thin Parsnip, but are even thinner
and longer. Maybe it wasn’t helped either by the still quite stoney
soil, as the new allotment had only been started that season. Whatever
the reason, when I dug up a couple of roots in the Winter I was not
impressed one little bit. They had made lots of healthy looking top
growth, but on inspection the roots had forked badly. So, I left them in
the ground in disgust.
Come the Spring the Scorzonera started putting on fresh growth and then started going to seed, so I dug them all up in late May as I wanted the space for other things. The tops still looked good and the roots seemed to have filled out, but all of them had forked roots. Many of the clumps of roots were obviously too thin to be of use, but I trimmed them and took them home anyway. On getting home I read that they are one of the few root vegetables that can successfully be left in the ground over winter without rotting. Their seed is on sale everywhere, but they are not very popular at all, not because they are difficult to grow, but probably because they are a bit of a fiddle too cook and prepare for eating.
Cooking is best done before the Scorzonera roots are peeled, or skinned, in much the same way as you might beetroot. The books say that the roots should be scrubbed well and then cut into 2 inch lengths before being boiled in salted water that has had a little lemon juice added. After 20 minutes or so, they can be removed, and while still warm, the white pieces of Scorzonera should be “squeezed” out of their black skins. My roots were a little thin and therefore quite fiddly, but the process definitely worked and for good measure I dropped them briefly back into hot, “lemoned,” water before serving. It seemed a lot of trouble to go to, but I was actually quite impressed with their taste.
The next day my brother came with his lady friend, so I decided to serve some up again and made a fancy starter out of them. A little melted butter drizzled on to half a dozen small pieces of Scorzonera each, along with a bit of fancy salad trimmings and they made quite an exotic starter. Comments varied about their taste and texture from being a little rubbery and oyster like, to being reminiscent of Asparagus. They certainly had a flavour and texture unlike other vegetables and went down very well with the family. So much so, that they asked if I had anything in any books about them, after which the guests all stuck their noses into the books reading up about them. When I looked them up in the books myself I found that the young stalks can also be blanched and treated like Celery and the new, tender leaves, used as greens.
Next time I
will try to grow Scorzonera properly by sowing the seed directly into
the allotment and hopefully with no transplanting, they won’t produce
forked roots. With a little care they won’t even need thinning because
each seed is about 1/3 of an inch long and so can easily be sown
individually, but I think that they are definitely something worth