The women who says she doesn’t care for vegetable gardening ought to try some off beat crops that are fun to grow. There isn’t much that is stimulating about cabbage for winter storage, or potatoes no better than the ones you can buy at the corner grocery.
Yet even cabbages and potatoes are fun to grow, if you grow the right kinds. I am thinking of the little gem like heads of cabbage you are likely to get in the better French restaurants. A single head serves one person. The flavor is sheer ambrosia.
About the only American variety that can be used for producing these midget heads is EARLY JERSEY WAKEFIELD, or its yellows-resistant counterpart, JERSEY QUEEN. Those who patronize English firms might try VELOCITY, LIGHTNING and EARLY YORK. Plant very early (I start them inside in 2 1/4-inch peat pots) and feed heavily to get quick growth. Harvest when they are just a little larger than a baseball. Boil for eight minutes and serve with melted butter. A touch of mace or nutmeg is the only other thing needed.
As for potatoes, try the little tiny fellows, not much bigger than a marble. Scrub these and boil quickly. Served with butter and chopped chives or parsley they are food for the gods.
Speaking of parsley brings to mind two other vegetables worth mentioning. One is PLAIN, sometimes called ITALIAN parsley. As pretty as the mosscurled and triple-curled varieties are as garnish, let’s admit that they have very little true parsley flavor. Italian parsley, on the other hand, has enough flavor so that when cooked in soups or stews this flavor comes through.
It is the perfect raw material for that gourmet’s dish, cream of parsley soup. The faint greenish tinge of this delicious dish comes from the heavy green pigmentation of the Italian variety.
Hamburg-rooted parsley is another neglected vegetable. This adds a certain zest to soups and stews, which I find more pleasing than, that added by the leafy varieties. There is something novel about biting into a bit of root that looks like a piece of carrot, only to have it taste like parsley.
Ever eat a white beet? As a beet, it isn’t too good. The flavor is rather bland and flat. I take advantage of this lack of flavor to use it as a substitute for another offbeat vegetable that is hard to grow-celeriac.
If white beets (I use BURPEE WHITE) are boiled in water with celery seed, they take on quite an acceptable celery flavor. They can be used in any way celeriac is served and are particularly good with a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing into which a little onion has been shaved.
Ever eat a purple bean? The first one I ever saw-on a seed farm in California-looked poisonous. Bright purple in color, it looked completely inedible. When I asked my host why he grew it, he looked surprised and then explained to me that this was his labor insurance. His Mexican employee would work nowhere else because “other places do not grow blue bean.”
This variety is one of the oldest vegetables in commerce. It came originally from France, under the name BLUE Coco.
In spite of its color, it is one of the most delicious of vegetables. In hot water, the purple color disappears and it becomes a normal clear green. The flavor is superb: gourmets claim it is the finest-flavored bean in the world. This is in commerce under the name BLUE Coco, but it is also sold as the SWEDISH BLUE BEAN. It does grow well in cool parts of the United States.
Another odd-colored vegetable is BLACK MEXICAN sweet corn, considered by many to be the sweetest of all corns. It is ripe when the kernels turn a blackish purple; a color that disappears when cooked. While much sweeter than many modern hybrid varieties, the flavor is considered a bit “thin” by some authorities. True, it is high in sugar, but lacks some of the volatile substances, which contribute to flavor.
One vegetable popular at our house is one we don’t even plant-purslane. I can feel the shudder of horror that will go through many gardeners as they read this. Nonetheless, I can thoroughly recommend purslane (call it pussley or pigweed if you will) as a delicious vegetable. Pull the young plants before they bloom, cook quickly (about five to eight minutes) and serve with melted butter and lemon. Purslane has a rich, gelatinous flavor, which tells the eater that it must be high in nutritious value. Anything as vigorous as purslane ought to contain something good for man!
Florence fennel or finnochio is a vegetable, listed in many catalogs, which too many gardeners dismiss with a glance. Next time that name pops out of the page, stop and order a packet. Plant according to directions, and when the bulb that forms at the base of the leaf begins to swell, pull earth around it to blanch the stalks.
The finished product will be a celery like stalk with a blanched enlarged base. The stalk is eaten with fine cheese or with a slice of tart apple as a dessert. Or it can be served with the rest of the relishes, to which it adds a delicate anise flavor.
Edible pod peas are true gourmet’s food; these have pods with no fiber in them. They are picked when the seeds are not much larger than pinheads, and cooked whole, pod and all. These are similar to that delicious Chinese dish, snow peas, melting like snow in the mouth.
Oyster plant or salsify is another vegetable that is all too often given a side-glance. When dipped in beaten egg and cracker crumbs and fried, it really does taste like fried oysters (and costs 1/10th as much, if you grow your own).
The hostess who wants something different for the relish tray should persuade the man of the family to grow some Hungarian sweet peppers. They are long finger peppers, of a distinct sweet flavor. They are yellow, turning red when fully ripe. Cut into strips and serve along with the olives and radishes; they add a distinct color and flavor.
Forced dandelion sounds a bit too close to the “roots and berries” nature school to attract most gardeners. Actually, one of the most delicious of winter salads can be grown in the basement from dandelion roots dug in late fall and buried in sand in a 60 degree room. The delicate blanched leaves that grow from these roots have a delicious flavor with just a touch of dandelion bitterness.
White mustard is a common dish on English luncheon and tea tables all winter long, yet I do not recall ever encountering it in America. It is used like watercress. A flat or large pot is filled with soil and the seed sprinkled thickly over the top. It is cut before the second pair of leaves forms, and used as an ingredient in salads, or spread on buttered bread as a sandwich filling.
These unusually edibles should get your taste buds going. Remember to order your seeds for next year and bookmark the seed germination database.
by M. Carlton