Monday, August 27, 2007

Roots, by Request.

Today, August 27th

If all goes according to plan, I will be posting this from London! My holiday postings will be on topics suggested by readers, and a couple at my own whim.

“M” of The Cat’s Tripe was first in with a request. She asks for a story on ‘rapunzel, scorzonera, skirret.’

These are indeed old-fashioned root vegetables, thoroughly deserving of an honourable modern mention and an overdue revival. First, a definition for those of you who may not be familiar with them.

Rapunzel is another name for rampion or ramps (Campanula rapunculus), a species of bellflower with an edible root and leaves, both of which can be used in a salad.

Scorzonera ((Scorzonera hispanica ) is from the family Asteraceae, the family that includes the sunflower which we featured last week. It has a long black root and is a cousin to the white-rooted salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius), which we have met in a previous story. In recognition of their relationship, it is sometimes referred to as ‘black salsify’ but once upon a time was also called by the far more interesting name of viper-grass because of its supposed protection against venomous snake bites. As if that wasn’t enough names between them, both salsify and scorzonera are also sometimes named ‘vegetable oyster’ because of their supposed similar flavour.

Skirrets (Sium sisarum) are a species of water parsnip, also now hardly grown, but very common in early cookbooks, before they became overwhelmed by the invasion of bright orange carrots into England.

Murray's modern cookery book. Modern domestic cookery, by a lady (1851) has one highly adaptable recipe:

Salsifis, Skirrets, And Scorzanera,
Are not much known in England, though all good, and deserving of more general cultivation. The salsifis are white, and not unlike small parsnips, and ripen the first year, whilst scorzanera is black, and requires 2 years in coming to perfection; but it is preferable of the two. In flavour they somewhat resemble Jerusalem artichokes. They are much cultivated in France, and appear in the markets as a very late winter or early spring vegetable. Scrape them and throw them into water with a little lemon-juice squeezed into it to keep them white; boil in milk-and-water; serve with melted butter or white sauce; or stew them in rich brown gravy; or, when boiled tender, dip in batter and fry quite crisp.

The Lady does not include a recipe for rapunzel in her book, but luckily good old Cassell’s Dictionary (1870’s) comes to the rescue, while bemoaning its passing from popularity.

The root of this plant, which is white and spindle-shaped, used to be much in request for the table under the name of rampion or ramps. The plant is now little cultivated in Britain, but it is still commonly grown in France for the sake of the roots, which are used either boiled or as a salad, and of its young leaves, which are also employed as a salad. The esculent roots are far more delicate than turnips or radishes: the seeds are ophthalmic. The root, either sliced together with its leaves in salads, or eaten as the radish, as well as boiled like asparagues, is most palatable when drawn young, and eaten fresh from the ground.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Retro Cookbook.

Quotation for the Day …

One of the gladdest moments of human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of habit, the leaden weight of routine, the cloak of many cares and the slavery of home, man feels once more happy. Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890)


Lili said...

There are ramp festivals all over the Appalachians (US) every spring. Just google "ramp festival" and you'll see what I mean. Mind you, what they call ramps in Tennessee is not what we call ramps in Southeastern PA. They use ramps to describe alium tricocum, or wild leeks. We use the word to describe wild garlic (alium vineale), also called crow garlic. And I think others use the word to describe alium ursinum, or bear's garlic. It seems to be a generic moniker for any immature plant with a garlicky pong.

Anonymous said...

The dried roots of rapunzel are sold in Korean food markets as “Dried Platycodon.” German Rampion, _Oenothera biennis_, is an unrelated plant that is used, in the kitchen, just like rapunzel.

As lizm said, in the US the word "ramps" refers to _Allium tricoccum_, a kind of wild onion -- and the star of several spring festivals in the Appalachians.

Catofstripes said...

Thank you!