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Scorzonera – also known as Black Salsify – is one of the lesser known root vegetables. It’s has been cultivated since at least the 17th C., particularly in Spain and France – Louis XIV was apparently very fond of it. It’s tender, fleshy root are usually peeled and then cut into pieces and placed in water with lemon to prevent it from turning brown (they oxidize quickly in air, somewhat like an apple after you’ve bitten into it). They are then eaten raw or cooked – grated into salads, boiled and mashed, steamed or sautéed and then dressed with butter and lemon, etc. They have even been candied in the past. The taste is quite delicate, and most closely resembles its relative the White Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius).It is, however, much more than just an delicious root vegetable. The leaves are also mild and sweet, and often available right through the winter. The unopened buds can also be used like asparagus. In the south-west of France they are added to omelettes, but we think they’re exceptional simply fried lightly and dressed with a little lemon juice.Plants prefer a sunny spot, and will perform best in deep, loose soil, that is rich in well-rotted organic matter. Once established they can withstand drought well. We’re not sure about the limit of it’s cold tolerance, but have had no problem over-wintering them in our garden in the North-East of England without protection. That said, as a plant which hails from the Mediterranean, it is likely to need winter protection any further North that this.The plants we’re offering have been propagated from root cuttings rather than being grown from seed. That has advantages and disadvantages. Some seed grown plants produce quite thin roots that are a pain to peel and tend to break when you dig them up – the plants from which ours are propagated have been selected for this purpose because they produce thicker roots. They also tend to mature a little earlier this way, so you can extend the harvesting window. However, rather than producing a single long tap root, plants propagated in this way tend to produce 4 or 5 carrot sized roots originating from the same crown – we like it this way, but if you’re a purist (or if you’re growing it to sell or exhibition) you might not.