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Skirret, also known as Crummock, is a hardy, perennial root vegetable, widely eaten across Europe before the introduction of potatoes. A tall, attractive plant, with delicate white umbels which appear in summer, it is as much at home in an ornamental garden as the allotment.
The roots, for which it is primarily grown, can be eaten raw or cooked. Raw, they just need peeling. Then they can be cut, to make an excellent crudité or an accompaniment to hummus, or grated into salads. Cooked, they are simply scrubbed, then boiled, roasted, sautéed, etc. The texture is like that of a soft, fluffy potato. The taste is also similar to potato, but sweeter and with a hints of Parsnip, Carrot, and Celeriac.
It has also been used, historically, in sweet dishes as well as savoury ones, and in Germany, where it is known as sugar-root (Zuckerwurzel), it was at one point trialled as a potential sugar crop for temperate climates, only to be slightly outdone by the sugar beet.
And as the roots are thinner than their more commonly grown cousins, Carrot and Parsnip (all members of the Apiaceae family), they do take a little bit more work to clean. Occasionally older roots will also get a thin, fibrous core, although after cooking this is easy to remove. Both of these things, however, are more than compensated for over the course of the growing season, by the fact that Skirret plants seem to thrive with very little care, and for the space they take up, they are more productive. The only real requirement it has is moist soil that is high in organic matter. Unlike both Carrot and Parsnip, Skirret grows quite happily in light shade or dappled sunlight. Mature plants also produce offsets, making propagation very easy.
The young, blanched shoots are also edible. Like most shoot vegetables these make excellent tempura. They’re also good baked like chicory, although they are not at all bitter. And, according to the 16th Century German botanist Leonhart Fuchs, ‘the dried, powdered seeds… make married folk interested in each other in bed’, so there’s that!
Slugs and snails like the emerging shoots, so it is good idea to provide some protection at the start of each season. Although generally untroubled by disease, it is apparently susceptible to Celery late blight (Septoria apiicola), so keeping populations of the two plants separate is probably a good idea.