I: Salsify

A little bit of history, and - why not? - some recipes.

A salsify flower in full bloom. Photo by Jpkole via Wikimedia Commons.
A salsify flower in full bloom. Photo by Jpkole via Wikimedia Commons.

Good morning. Today is primidi, the 11th of Brumaire, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate le salsifis, a root with a spectacular sunburst of a flower.

It's back! Salsify is often called an oyster plant – though not to be confused with another oyster plant – because when the vegetable was at its culinary peak a few hundred years ago, its sliced and boiled roots were often used as a substitute for oysters in stews and soups. This puzzles many modern YouTubers, who all say "it doesn't taste like oysters, and all these recipes also include fish," but the point isn't the taste, it's the texture. When prepared correctly, the pale root slices turn a bit mushy and chewy and appear to be an ivory color, so they look and chew just like oyster meat. Salsify was a budget way to trick your guests into thinking they were eating oyster soup while using a cheaper fish for flavoring.

Salsify is the reverse mullet of field flowers – party up top, business down below. Or maybe a more accurate analogy is the platypus. The top resembles a dandelion, particularly when it goes to seed and creates such a large puffball of wind-born seeds that it's sometimes called goat's beard. Meanwhile, the root is a cross between a turnip and a parsnip that somehow tastes like asparagus.

This oddity has given it cult status among the root vegetables. It's hard to find outside of Europe, and looks ugly as all sin, and has very specific needs in terms of preparation, but once people get the knack of cooking it they become very devoted fans.