Cooking salsify and scorzonera | Growing salsify and scorzonera | Site and Soil | Varieties | Sowing | Thinning | Weed Control | Harvesting
Two members of the daisy family, salsify and scorzonera are usually taken together as vegetables because they are related, similar in growth and cooked in similar fashion. The are both root crops, used during winter. The roots resemble those of a large dandelion to which they are, of course, related also. Both species are considered native to the Mediterranean region although they have naturalised over much wider territory in Europe and North America. The salsify is Tragopogon porrifolius, related to the wild goat's beard which occasionally arrive unannounced in gardens, thanks to its dandelion-like, but much larger, parachutes. Salsify has blue-purple daisy flowers while the scorzonera, Scorzonera hispanica, has yellow flowers and leaves several times broader than the narrow leek-like leaves of salsify. Both vegetables have been grown and used in Europe for centuries, though little used here. Salsify is sometimes called ‘vegetable oyster' because of a supposed similarity of flavour to oysters. Both germinate readily and are easy enough to grow but must be grown well to avoid having too-skinny roots that are a nuisance to prepare. Salsify has white-skinned roots, scorzonera has brown-black ones. The salsify is a biennial flowering the seocnd year while scorzonera is perennial, the roots thickening in the second year, but also becoming more coarse.
Cooking salsify and scorzonera
There are two ways of cooking these vegetables: the roots can be washed, and boiled or steamed before peeling when cold. They are used in stews, casseroles, baked dishes and soups, and cooked before use in stir-fries, and can be sliced and fried too. The new growth at the top of the plants can also be used in spring, cooked like asparagus or used is salads. These tops can be forced in darkness, much as chicory, which is also related. The food value of the roots is limited but they are a source of fibre while the green tops and flower buds have useful amounts of vitamin C.
Growing salsify and scorzonera
Site and soil
These vegetables prefer a light but fertile soil in full sunshine. Avoid sowing in ground that has been fertilised because, like carrots, the root will fork and be useless.
One variety of each seems to be the standard variety, namely ‘Sandwich Island' for salsify and ‘Russian Giant' for scorzonera, or variations on those names depending on the seed house.
Sow in well-tilled soil in March as soon as the soil is in good condition, spacing a small group of seeds about 15 centimetres apart. They need a long growing season to make sizeable roots.
When the seedlings are still quite small, reduce the number of seedlings to two or three at each station, later when a few centimetres high, leave the best seedling.
Maintain good weed control to ensure good growth because poor growth results in thin roots.
The roots can be used when they reach good size but generally not until October when growth is complete. The unused or under-sized roots can be left for use as ‘chards', as the green tops are known.