Readers of this column have had some strange dishes offered up to them over the years. Of the lesser-known crops I’ve suggested you try, a few might not have won you over. Was the saltwort a little too prickly, the Malabar spinach too viscous? Then again, maybe you found great uses for them.
I figure being adventurous in what you grow makes gardening more fun and can lead to new favorites. And the reason many of these foods are obscure may have more to do with the needs of long-distance shipping than whether they are good to eat. This is what gives the home gardener or local grower such an advantage. It might seem like the supermarkets have everything, but here’s the big secret: Potentially, you have a much wider repertoire.
So you’re going to have to trust me about salsify. This is a white root — rather like a parsnip but skinnier — that keeps beautifully in the ground. Like the parsnip, it’s planted in spring, as early as the ground can be worked, then allowed to grow all summer and fall until the first frosts bring out its flavor. You can then pull it up during thaws, saving some under refrigeration if you like, but it will shrivel a little and is best dug and eaten fresh.