To start at the end, Salsify tastes a lot like artichoke heart, or Jerusalem artichokes. That was a great relief, as it was called “oyster plant” in Victorian times.
I’d never heard of salsify and so was intrigued when I saw it on the Johnney’s Selected Seeds website. I bought some seeds and planted a short row–only two feet because this kind of thing usually ends in sad plants that hardly produce. The salsify plants came right up and thrived with no sign of disease or insect damage and when I dug them up six months later, there were roots! One caution, I tried a second planting mid-summer and these did not thrive and did not produce at all.
These plants are Mammoth Sandwich Island salsify. Mine didn’t grow as big or uniform as advertised, but that’s to be expected. I planted the seeds on May 15th and dug up roots on November 14th–after a few nights in the low 20s. I’d read that leaving the roots in the ground through a few hard frosts mitigates the horrible oyster flavor. Even so, it was with some trepidation that I processed the roots.
There are several salsify recipes on the internet, but I tried a simple one first so I could tell what the root actually tasted like. A consistent bit of advice is to immediately put cut roots in water with “a little” lemon juice to keep them from turning dark, which they will do far more quickly than potatoes. I did this, but as they were immediately put in water to boil it probably wasn’t necessary.
I cut off the small roots and greens, put the whole roots in a pot of water and boiled until just soft. Then I cooled them under running water and easily peeled off the outer coating with my fingers. Sliced up they look like white carrots. I sprinkled seasoned salt on them and fried them in butter on medium. Unlike potatoes, they sucked up all the butter, so I was glad I hadn’t used very much. When they were browned on the one side, I flipped them for a few minutes and then served.
There was no oyster flavor at all. My husband and I both liked them, and I do appreciate a plant that’s no work–next year I’ll plant a lot more of them. To try to get longer roots, I may dig in some sand.
According to Johnney’s Selected Seeds, what I planted is the ‘classic’ salsify. If you google images of ‘salsify’, you’ll see some of them show black cylinders, long and thin. Evidently, these black roots are an entirely different plant, also called salsify or more accurately, scorzonera. If you’re interested in these roots, here is a short article on the differences and how to grow them.