Saturday, January 15, 2011

Seed Dreams

Placing my bets on the future, I ordered my seeds this week, from Territorial and a new place for me--Bountiful Gardens, in Palo Alto.

The Bountiful Gardens order gets me scorzonera and Tyfon, two crops I've had trouble finding seeds for. 
Scorzonera, from
Scorzonera is often called black salsify or black oysterplant, which I suppose only takes it up a notch or two on the recognition scale for most people. It's a long, slender, very dark-skinned root, extremely hardy, with a rich, mellow taste that I prefer to parsnips or rutabagas.One drawback is that it requires deep, workable soil, which is hard to come by in my clayey backyard, but I have a plan. My nephew-in-law Andrew has provided me a couple 50 gallon food-grade plastic barrels from his job at the fish processing plant. I'm already using two of these as rain barrels. These new ones are destined to be root towers. I'll cut them in half to create four containers deep enough for fingerling potatoes, sweet potatoes, and scorzonera, fill them with nice loose soil, and we're off to the races. When it's harvest time I can just tip them sideways onto a tarp collect the roots, give the soil a compost boost, and replant with a rotation crop. This is the time of year when all these plans seem foolproof. 

Last year my sweet potatoes didn't get nearly enough heat, but as the global "hottest year on record" stats keep piling up, it's surely only a matter of time before Western Washington gets its turn and I am rolling in sweet potatoes, eggplants and tomatoes while my peas and lettuce wither or bolt.

Here are a couple of recipes for scorzonera. The first is from Winter Harvest, courtesy of Bruce Naftaly at Le Gourmand in Seattle

1 pound salsify or scorzonera
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon chopped chervil, Italian parsley, or sweet cicely
Peel salsify or scorzonera and cut into pieces the size of your little finger. Put cut pieces in acidulated water as you go. Drain, then steam until barely tender, about 5 minutes.
Combine cream, nutmeg, pepper, and herbs in a heavy, nonaluminum saucepan or sauté pan. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and cook gently until cream is reduced almost to the consistency of sauce. Add salsify or scorzonera and continue cooking until liquid makes a sauce. Add salt to taste.
Serves 3 or 4.
Vegetarian, gluten-free

Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine is another good source for scorzonera and other unusual varieties, and their catalog includes this simple vegan treatment:

Oven-Fried Scorzonera
10 or 12 scorzonera roots
4 cups water or stock 
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
chopped parsley
Wash scorzonera but do not peel. Parboil in water or stock for about 10 minutes. They should still be firm.
Drain thoroughly. Peel and cut in half—lengthwise. Brush slices with oil and arrange in a shallow baking dish.
Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Outside should be crisp and the inside tender. Garnish
with parsley. 
Serves  4-6 

Tyfon is a very hardy mustard/broccoli cross that is used for livestock feed and green manure and is also a good kitchen green. I used to sow it as a winter cover crop in Sumas. It has vigorous roots that are supposed to be able to penetrate clay. That wasn't an issue in Sumas, but it certainly is here. When you cut off the tops come spring, the plants die, the roots decay, and the soil benefits from more organic matter and better drainage.

This just in: the Territorial order came today, minus the sweet potatoes, which will arrive in May. That was fast, and I am excited. In fact I'm heading out right now to do some soil testing. 

1 comment:

Natural Choice said...

Congrats on already looking forward to spring planting! Never heard of some of these foods, thanks for reminding me of the possibilities when you forage locally! Here are some of our favorite resources for growing your own in the Pacific Northwest: