Friday, 30 April 2010

Perennial vegetables

I've been spending some time investigating perennial vegetables over the winter and definitely want to incorporate some of these into my forest garden plans for the yard as ground cover under and between the trees and bushes. I've bought seeds or bulbs for three species to give them a go over this next year - salsify, quamash and sorrel.

Actually, I got the sorrel going last year, but as yet haven't eaten any of my own stuff! I've tried it previously on camping trips and it's a really great veg - lemon zesty flavour, so good for adding flavour to just about anything (I'm a big lemon fan)! Good with fish, so I'd like to add it to my usual fishcake recipe. Probably great in mashed potato, in salads, with pasta... I shall be trying this out some more and if I find any really good recipes, I'll post them up here.

Quamash (Camassia quamash) is apparantly a Native American delicacy - it grows from an edible bulb with leaves and a blue flowering spike making it look a bit like bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), except that the flowers are like little blue stars instead of little blue bells (see image at the start of this article). Ideal for a forest garden, it grows well both in sun and shade and looks gorgeous. The plant will spread readily by seed or you can dig and divide in autumn. I've started off with about 9 plants, that I'm hoping will be a starter crop for germinating many more.

Autumn is the time to harvest them too. By the sound of things, you cook with them as you would most root veg (boil, steam or roast) and they're said to taste like sweet potato. In retrospect though, this one might just be for special occasions or desperate times - it seems that you have to cook them for about a day! Might be experimenting with the microwave on this one to see if it can help speed this up! And this, sadly, will have to wait until next year at least when I have more plants.

So my last perennial vegetable to try is salsify. Another blue flowered root crop, this grows long edible roots about an inch (2cm) thick. The leaves are grass-like and are also edible cooked or raw, as are the flowers and flower buds. The root is prepared and cooked in the same way as potato or parsnip, except that you'll need to drop the freshly peeled roots into water with a little lemon juice to prevent discolouring. Cultivation is the same as for carrots, with all the same precautions to prevent forking.

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