It’s not often that you would call a daisy ugly but Scorzonera, a member of the daisy family is a vegetable with a root that only a mother could love. Very popular in Victorian times when it was prized for its delicate flavour it has all but been replaced by the sweeter and more attractive parsnip. The parsnip also has the advantage that when cut it doesn’t exude a sticky white latex like substance that is unfortunately a trait of scorzonera and its cousin Salsify.
Ugly and exudes latex….I’m not really selling it am I? Is it worth growing? Taste wise it is reminiscent of new potatoes, maybe Jerusalem artichoke and at a push unrepentant banana. It’s often called the oyster plant and that is also a fair description of the flavour. It is easy to grow and will do well in summers where even parsnips struggle. It also has many less pests and diseases than parsnip so is good for organic growers. It is usually ready before parsnips so is a useful addition to an allotment and just like the parsnip Scorzonera can be left in the ground for harvesting in winter and is useful as both a root and a green vegetable during the hungry gap.
You can get over the latex issue by scrubbing the root well then boiling whole. When cooked, leave to cool or refresh in cold water, then peel the skins off and and warm the roots in some butter. Alternatively peel the roots under warm running water before cooking and store in water with some added lemon juice before cooking to keep the flesh white.
In the kitchen
Has a delicate flavour that is hard to describe, reminiscent of new potatoes or Jerusalem artichoke. The tops can be flash fried as a spinach substitute. Roots can be boiled or roasted. The best way to prepare is to scrub the root well then boiling whole for ten minutes. When cooked, leave to cool or refresh in cold water, then peel the skins off and and warm the roots in some butter.
Yield and plant health
Each root will grow to large carrot size if given the opportunity. Scorzonera generally looks after itself and I grew it this year in a very cold and wet summer with no pest or disease, not even slugs.
Choose a sunny spot with light, friable soil. Scatter some organic fertiliser like blood fish and bone and rake in before sowing. Sow thinly in February or March where you want it to crop, 1.5cm deep. Cover and water well. Allow 40cm between rows.
You will start to see seedlings between 14 and 30 days later so continue to water if the weather is dry. You might want to sow a cash crop like radish next to the Scorzonera to mark where it will come up and make use of the space.
Once growing, thin to 20cm (8″) apart.
The roots will be ready any time from September onwards and will actually keep until well in to the following year.