Salsify and other vegetable oddities (419)

by Max Akroyd

The weather in Brttany isn’t doing anything by halves this year: if you get a sunny day, you get a sunny week. Which is great, until it rains and then you risk being washed away by the seventh day.

But with pigs napping in the sun without a care and goats nibbling at Spring’s new growth, it’s not a sensible time to worry too much about weather patterns; it’s time to keep sowing and planting. The next vacant bed in my Kitchen Garden plan – no. 25 – is allocated to what most people would consider oddities: salsify, scorzonera and Hamburg parsley.

Whenever I see reference to an unusual vegetable though, I tend to pay close attention. I’m discovering that a lot of these obscure edibles are very relevant to a plan for self-sufficiency. A lot of them tend to crop in times where most, more popular, vegetables don’t. One of the reasons they’ve lapsed into obscurity is presumbly that they’re difficult to process mechanically/industrially and, instead, need a gnarly old peasant to coax them out of the ground. Well, here I am!

By the same token, I’m also finding that the older books are more relevant to my recent life-choices  – here’s a relevant extract from How to Grow and Produce Your Own Food, 1946:



Salsify and scorzonera fit the ‘useful oddity’ definition very well. I’ve grown them before and the brittle roots were so big and deep I couldn’t get them out of the ground. Apparently you need a crow bar. But their roots offer a gourmet winter alternative and, if left in the ground and blanched in early spring, the shoots are edible as ‘chards’. It’s this latter, hungry gap crop which has particularly caught my eye and spurred me on to create a decent space for them this morning.

Next stop bulbous chervil?


A beautiful day all spent outdoors.

After weeding the bed and forming the drill for the salsify, scorzonera and Hamburg parsley, I realised there was enough room for a parallel sowing of radishes. I mixed the seeds of about a dozen varieties and my daughter sowed them. Which is about the most interesting thing that can happen to radishes: I grow them but we all eat them only under protest.

I went off to find the oddity seeds but only came back with the salsify: the parsley (I discovered by reading the packet) is best started in modules and the scorzonera seeds have vanished. Oh well, I’m sure they’ll show up one day. At least less time sowing meant I had more time to set up the geese’s enclosure.

I then somehow got roped into painting the top of a wall, so I’m now a strange mix of slightly sun-tanned and dappled with white paint. Worst was to follow when I embarked on mowing the Allotment area: the mower hit a mole hill and the corner of the handlebar rebounded into my groin! Thankfully only big pig was witness to the indignity of a grown man sobbing…

A cold beer in hand and the pain is mainly a memory!