Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What Is It?


Okay, gardening folk, got a question for you all. What the heck is this vegetable?

These things came from a trade arranged via GardenWeb. Someone asked for some of my seeds and offered parsnip seeds. I'd never grown parsnips before, so I had no idea what the seeds were supposed to look like. I didn't bat an eye when they looked like little mustard seeds. (For the record, I now know what real parsnip seeds look like: nothing like mustard seeds.) I duly planted them in good loose soil and watched them grow. After a few frosts I harvested some roots. They tapered very smoothly and were bone white, not quite like the yellow-white, irregular parsnips I was familiar with. But I peeled them and tried adding them to a stew. Big shock when I tasted them. They weren't at all sweet, and the overpowering, mustardy taste alarmed my mouth. I fished every piece of this faux parsnip out of the stew and added them to the compost bucket.

Note the tiny broccoli-like heads. (Click image to biggify.)

I'm as close to 100% certain that this plant is in the brassica family as I can be. The leaves look brassicky, and when they set seed last spring, they did so in typically prolific brassica style, with little yellow flowers followed by small pods. Our laying hens positively went bonkers over any of the leaves I was willing to cut for them last spring.

These chance seedlings popped up last year and are growing quickly already this spring. They have much lumpier roots. They're not in well worked ground, so the roots are encountering much more resistance. I think you can see why the person who sent the seeds to me might have believed that these were parsnips. I'm assuming good faith here. After the inescapable conclusion that these were not parsnips, I suspected that they might be the European root crop, the rampion. But since the rampion is not a brassica, I now have my doubts. Besides, rampions are said to have sweet roots with a nutty flavor. So I'm stumped.

I'm willing to let these mystery plants hang around and grow where they may, since my hens seem to love the leaves so very, very much. But if there's some part of it that we could be eating, I'd sure like to know.

Any ideas?

19 comments:

Susan said...

Turnip Greens. They make long tapered carrot looking roots and as they grow they fill out rounder and make a turnip.
I'm not sure where you are but in Tennessee that's what grows here.

Confessions of an Overworked Mom said...

Could easily be a daikon radish. We have those here in VT.

el said...

Have you tasted the leaves, Kate? My guess is some kind of turnip or mustard green. Daikon roots grow a bit more smoothly: they usually go straight down even in my horribly clay soil...and I think daikon leaves are more serrated/toothed, like a dandelion.

Rabbit Hill Farm said...

Turnip. Once mature you can roast them and they are absolutely delicious!

Alyclepal said...

Perhaps if you took it to the farmer's market Saturday (or whenever they are up there) someone could id it for you if it's not a turnip.

Candace said...

my first thought was turnips

L. said...

I´m from Portugal and we have a lot of those here. They are from turnip family but not quite the same. We call it "nabiça". They do not make a turnip and only the leaves can be eat.
I cook them in water and them put in hot olive oil with garlic and make a puré (esparregado). It´s very tasty! (Sorry my english)

Kate said...

Thank you for all the responses. I see none of you suggest anything outside of the brassica family, so I guess that clinches it. Mustard greens or turnip greens, that's a pretty narrow identification. I haven't cooked or eaten either of these very often, but I will definitely give them a go now, while still saving some for the hens. The brassica family is so very diverse that I don't hold out much hope for an exact identification at this point. Just look at the range of mustard greens sometime!

L., your English is great. Much better than my Portuguese, by the way. I am intrigued by the sound of nabiça and esparregado. I would love to hear more about the preparation, and how you use the puree once you have prepared it. Do you boil the greens and then saute them? Do you use the puree as a dip for vegetables, or as a sauce for pasta? A soup perhaps? Please tell me more!

Sadge said...

My first thought was a radish - either a white breakfast type or a young daikon. That's what the seed description sounded like too, and they set seed in medium-sized pods. Radish flowers are usually white or pale lavender though.

Wendy said...

Looks a little like horseradish, which would be incredibly overpowering, and probably a little spicy. Horseradish also has a broccoli-like cluster for flowers. I don't know what the seeds look like, as I purchased the plant, but it is incredibly resilient, and if you missed even a portion of the root, I'm told, it will come back in that spot forever and ever ;).

Margaret said...

It looks nothing like what we call horseradish in the UK. I agree that it is some type of mustard greens.

Susan said...

One note... you don't want to eat them after they've survived all winter. They will be bitter and I noticed in one of your pictures it was starting to bolt (flower). The chickens will love them but they will taste better if you start a new crop. They are great to grow as a spring crop or a fall crop.

Vickey said...

Kate, do the leaves have a garlic taste? If so it could be garlic mustard.

Kate said...

Sadge, I'm pretty sure these flowers were yellow. Whatever this stuff is, I'll keep it because it comes up so early and the leaves are edible. Good enough for me.

Wendy, I don't think it's horseradish. The taste of the roots was overwhelming, but not in a horseradishy sense. I'd actually like to grow some horseradish since I'm fond of the stuff.

Susan, they haven't been too bitter yet, though we're having unseasonably warm weather right now, so I expect they'll become rather assertive soon. I went around decapitating the heads to forestall seeding for a little while.

Vickey, no garlicky taste, unfortunately. Just a minor note of bitterness, which I don't mind. I like slightly bitter greens sometimes. But I may have to look for some garlic mustard seeds! That sounds great.

L. said...

Hi. Here is the "esparregado" recipe: cook the "nabiça" in boiling water, with a pinch of salt. Remove them from the water and move into another recipient with garlic and olive oil (not much but to your taste) and leave them there for 2 or 3 minutes on a slow flame. At this point you can mash them into a puree; or add half a cup of milk and 2 or 3 table spoons of flower, to make it more "creammy" and afterwards mash it into the puree. Add a table spoon of vinegar and mix it all up.
Serve and eat up. This can also be done with spinaches.

I usually serve it as a side dish for barbeque meats and boiled potatoes but I guess theres no limit to use. Its a matter of taste, really.

Allison B. said...

What about broccoli raab?

Kate said...

L., thank you so much for expanding on the esparregado recipe. I'm going to give this a try. I only wish we still had some of our potatoes left to dress up with it. Much appreciated.

Alison, I can't say that I'm certain that this isn't broccoli raab, but it just doesn't look quite like the broccoli raab I've eaten before. I think it's less bitter than broccoli raab too. But I can certainly see a general resemblance.

-Kate

Vickey said...

Kate, garlic mustard is wildly invasive, so you might not want to hunt down seeds. If you find it in the woods in its basal rosette form in early spring, enjoy pulling & eating it. Just a few plants can take over woodlands and overcome native species in just a few years. So I'm glad that's *not* what you've got!

Kate said...

Vickey, I'm kinda getting a taste of that invasiveness with the mustard variety that I have. We've got these things popping up all over the place, far from where they were last year. So I can see what you mean. I don't think I'll let them go to seed this year. Thanks for the warning.