Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Growing Scorzonera Maxima

Scorzonera Maxima is also known as Black Salsify due to its black roots. This is a vegetable which doesn't look pretty but is an absolute delicacy and very popular with foodies in Europe. The variety Maxima is a fairly recent introduction which has the advantage of better resistance to bolting. 
Scorzonera is easy to grow, although it needs a long growing season. However, it is completely hardy and should be sown as soon as the ground is sufficiently warm .
Preparing the soil
On cold, heavy soils the ground should be warmed and dried by covering it with cloches some three weeks before sowing. A deep soil is essential, preferably deeply worked and stone free - although scorzonera does not fork as easily as salsify.
Sow the Scorzonera seeds from April onwards in the open ground.
Sow the long, thin seeds in drills 0.5inch (1 cm) deep spacing the rows 8in (20cm) apart. 
Thin the young plants to around 4in (10cm). 
Sow them 0.5"(2cm) deep in shallow rows about 8in (20cm) apart. 
  • As the seedlings grow thin them out to about 15cm (6in) between plants. 
  • The plant is generally untroubled by pests of disease - a good crop for organic growers! 
  • Early sowings may run to seed in hot dry summers. 
  • While a March sowing will usually give best results, growers in hot dry areas might be well advised to delay sowing until April. 
  • If a really hot, dry summer is predicted a May sowing will normally produce an acceptable crop.
  • Harvesting
  • The mature plants are ready to be harvested from October onwards (like parsnips it benefits from being frosted). The roots can be left in the ground until needed or lifted direct or stored in sand throughout the winter.

In the kitchen the roots are best scrubbed and cooked in their skins. The skins can easily be removed under a cold tap after cooking. 
If, however, the roots run up to seed do not despair. The young flower buds can be steamed or lightly boiled and served like asparagus. Or, as was recommended by the famous French chef Boulestin, they can be used in omelettes. But do remember to use young flower buds if you are tempted! 
The leaves can also be used, blanched in early spring (earth them up as the young shoots develop). Steam them and serve them as a snack on buttered toast. 
Finally, in mediaeval Britain, young, tender roots were candied - presumably using the same process as you would for candying angelica.

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