There they are, the six plants gotten this spring of skirret, they were babied, they were put into well dug an very fertile soil, even in the worst of the drought at least weekly they were well watered and today was harvest day.
These were two year old plants, having been slips replanted out last year after harvest, and this one was the best of all of them.
For the wee splits, I did not harvest any root off of them, you can see them on the left, starting with six, we split out the babies and replanted three rows of 5 plants each, we needed to move them to a new bed, which is very rich but perhaps not as well dug, we will see if that has a effect next year, for the larger plants, I took up to a third of their biggest roots and then replanted
These were scrubbed, tipped and tailed, I did try one raw, carrot-parsnip cross, did nothing for me, the rest were given a light drizzle of fat and sea salt and oven roasted for 20 min, the outside for the smallest became golden brown, but most had soft melt like skin, the inside is slightly sweet, soft, creamy.. its like mashed potatoes with a hint of winter turnip mashed in.
My hubby an I stood at the pan sampling these.. not as sweet as thought, creamy, mushy, do you think you could deep fry the thin ones like a sweet potato chip and then I looked at the pan and went stop, we have almost eaten all of them and I have no photo or saved any for a recipe..
ekkk.. hubby laughed.. so while they are different, they are so good that we almost eat all in one sitting.. thankfully I did save the rest and will be doing a recipe shortly.
‘The sweetest, whitest and most pleasant of roots,” raves gentleman gardener John Worlidge in his 1677 Systema Horticulturae, or, The Art of Gardening. “Pleasant and wholesome,” agrees Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. Yet the subtle sweetness of the modest skirret, noted by Pliny as the Emperor Tiberius’s favourite and a mainstay of Tudor tables, is all but lost today.
Unfussy in most soils, resistant to disease and relishing frost, this sweet, white root’s downfall was progress. “It’s just not a commercial crop,” explains Marc Meltonville, food historian at Historic Royal Palaces. Relatively low-yield, fiddly to harvest and fiddlier to prepare, poor little skirret’s delightful but skinny roots were overtaken by bold, brash, industrial-scale potatoes and parsnips. Dainty and delicate, skirret’s loss to the commercial world is a gift to the home gardener.
Native to China, skirret arrived in Europe during classical times, probably brought to the British Isles by the Romans. It featured in monastic gardens, but became popular in medieval times and was used a lot in Tudor cookery.
“Nobody knows exactly what Henry VIII himself ate,” says Meltonville. “It was his secret.” At each course of every meal 20 dishes were presented for his selection, including meat (a lot of meat), spices, sugars and citrus fruits. Among such exotic splendour good old English veg were taken for granted and are rarely mentioned in reports.
“The old books say it needs a rich soil but I’ve found it to be pretty unfussy,” says Cooke. It doesn’t mind exposed or maritime sites and seems to actively enjoy the cold, one of the reasons it was popular in Scotland, where it was known as crummock. Its wild ancestor grows on the banks of waterways (another name for it is “water parsnip”).
Skirret’s biggest fan, Worlidge, says it grows well in “a dripping year”, and recommends lavish watering. If the roots get dry, they become fibrous and less crisp.
In the kitchen skirret needs a light touch. Its delicate nature is easily lost – even puréeing can lose some of the subtlety. “I tried parboiling it, but it couldn’t take it,” says Meltonville. “Celebrate it on its own. Eat it raw or cube it up and fry it in butter with a little garlic, in an iron pan if possible.”
The Tudors, who delighted in “sallats”, added skirret to salads as we might spring onions or radishes. Try serving it on a bed of rocket, one of their favourite salad leaves.