Tuesday, November 9, 2010
The unappreciated winter radish.
I mean really black.
There are black tomatoes of course...but they aren't really black. More like a brownish-purplish- reddish colour.
Black carrots look dark purple to me as do black eggplants.
Well, you must admit that the Round Black Spanish Radish pictured at right IS black!
As is the Long Black Spanish Radish erupting from the ground in this picture.......
But why is it when people come over and tour through my garden they are inevitably stumped as to what they are?
We know rutabagas and turnips, whose taste is so similar. But why do we neglect this garden superstar?
Radishes are ancient vegetables. They were first mentioned in literature in China as early as 1100 BC and it is believed this is the country of their origin. They are a member of the mustard family as are many other veggies that are standard in our diet such as broccoli, cabbage, turnip and more.
Radishes most commonly known in this country are the spicy sweet little round reds, found across the country at the early spring farmers market. But radishes come in many shapes, sizes and colours. There are reds, white, ambers, purples ...and blacks! They can be small, huge, round, long or bulbous. And don't forget the rat tailed as I mentioned in an earlier post.
Last year I had a Wwoofer helping out on the farm who hailed from Japan. I didn't realize the importance of the Daikon in the Japanese diet-it was by far his favourite veggie. I've since read that the Daikon makes up fully 25% of all vegetables grown in Japan...that's a lot of radishes!
The Black Spanish types I grow are appreciative of a loose and reasonably fertile soil. I plant mine in May or June, direct seeding them in the garden. You can wait till early July to get them in too-but I like mine big for storage purposes so put them in on the earlier dates.
The beauty of these veggies in my mind is their ability to store so darn well over the winter. As I do with many other veggies, I lop off all the greens, and layer them in barrels with straw. The barrels stay in my garage. They remain exceptionally firm and tasty all winter.
If I want to save seeds from them I simply replant the root come spring- and being a biennial, up shoots the seed stalk. The seed develops, I let it dry on the plant, then collect and store (or replant).
If I want to eat them, that's another story.
Eaten raw at the larger stage they are terrifically pungent. Elizabeth Schneider, in her wonderful book "Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables" describes the Russian habit of eating them as a cold spread; coarsely grated , then mixed with sour cream and chives or scallions. And of course accompanied by black bread and a healthy swig of vodka-what could be more invigorating!
The pungency subsides when cooked and they take on the very true taste of rutabaga. When boiled and buttered, they are yummy. Or alternately, try them with a cream or cheese sauce. That will make a believer out of you.
But perhaps the most entertaining thing to do is to take advantage of that wonderful black skin, and peel some of it off in strips, so you are faced with a prospect of eating what may be the worlds only black and white striped vegetable offering. Boil the striped delight, pop on a bit of butter and salt and be prepared again for the question, "what is that?"
From garden to table, people aren't familiar with this veggie. But it is a really good one to get to know!