It must soon be the turn of the radish to be trendy again, must it not? I haven’t thought about radishes for – Oh! Ages and Ages, and I don’t remember the last time I was served them in a restaurant salad. My radish thoughts were stimulated by finding that, in the cooler parts of the Northern hemisphere, this month used to be the time for putting by the products of the radish crop so that they could furnish the table during the fresh vegetable dearth-time of winter. Thankfully, we have cool-rooms and refrigerators instead of cellars full of sand barrels nowadays, but the following idea is worth remembering:
A Guide to the Orchard and Kitchen Garden (1831) describes 15 varieties of radish, six of which “will supply the table in succession through the autumn and winter. Those which are intended for winter use should be taken up in dry weather in November, divested of their leaves and fibres, and preserved in sand until they are wanted.”
The radish (Raphanus sativus) belongs to the family Brassicaceae – the mustard and cabbage family that has been an important source of human nutrition for millennia. As with other members of the family, the radish is so ancient and so widespread that its wild origins are lost in the mists of time, but it appears to have been cultivated since the pre-Roman era. The whole plant is edible, although the root is the most familiar and is the main reason for its cultivation. The plant grows and matures very rapidly (‘raphanus’ refers to this characteristic), and there are now many different varieties with slightly different growing requirements so that nowadays they are available most of the year round.
John Gerard in his Herball or General Historie of Plantes, published in 1597, indicated their culinary use (and the always associated health implications) thus:
“Radish are eaten raw with bread instead of other food. .. for the most part, they are used in sauce with meates to procure appetite, and in that sort they ingender blood lesse faulty, than eaten alone or with bread onely...”
By the early nineteenth century, the uses of the radish were summed up in The Practical Gardener, and Modern Horticulturalist (1828)
“The roots are much esteemed as salad, and are the only part of the plant generally used in a raw state. The pods are pickled, and considered a substitute for capers. Sometimes the tender tops are used along with other small salads; and they were anciently boiled, when full grown, and used as greens.”
The oil from radish seeds has been used medicinally since ancient times for a variety of conditions. More recently it has been proposed as a useful bio-fuel. If you add these applications to the culinary uses, you end up with a very useful plant indeed.
Methinks that when we do prepare the radish for our table, we use it in a fairly uninspiring way these days. We don’t make it a feature, do we? We certainly don’t feature the leaves as often as we should – perhaps because to do that we have to grow our own?
The American Salad Book (1899) gives a recipe for radish leaf salad, plus four using the root - including one variation on the classic Waldorf. Sadly, the proof-reader of the cookbook missed the missing radish from the ingredient list - presumably it should be mixed with the apples before adding the mayonnaise. I could not omit the recipe however, as I have previously featured Waldorf salad history and variations (here, and here), and I hate to miss an opportunity to expand a theme.
Radish Leaf Salad.
When the rows of young radishes are being thinned a very good salad can be made from the leaves of those taken out. Serve with French dressing made with a little onion juice, or sprinkled with mixed chives. Excellent in potato salad.
Radish Salad No. 4 Waldorf.
This is served with meat pies or hot meats. Four large tart apples are pared, cut into small pieces and mixed immediately with [the quantity of radishes] a teaspoonful of salt, one of paprika, and two tablespoonfuls of tarragon vinegar. Pour over the whole a large cupful of mayonnaise dressing. Serve on leaves of lettuce.
Quotation for the Day.
The radish is "a vulgar article of the diet" that has a "...remarkable power of causing flatulence and eructation."