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Notes from a Farmer Chef

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SALSIFY, PART 1

Our salsify crop just sprouted the other day at The Clifton Inn, and in the seconds it took my mind to remember that we’d even planted it, I thought to myself , “Hmm. Look at that grass coming up in… rows…”

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Photos by Colleen Yoder

Salsify is one of those ingredients, like ramps, that the wait staff is going to have explain to the guest. I learned about it working with an English chef. I only know one or two producers who grow salsify locally, and when I looked into sourcing, the rest was imported from Belgium. And yet, Thomas Jefferson grew it and ate it at Monticello, only a few miles from here, so it’s got some local roots (if you’ll excuse the pun.) My kitchen team and I decided to grow our own this year in a 4′ x 12′ bed, which should yield about ten pounds, if all goes well!

Salsify is a mild-mannered winter root vegetable, and its raw appearance doesn’t scream “nature’s bounty”—it just says “slender brown sticks.” But peeled to reveal its bright white flesh, and fried in brown butter with a little salt, there’s nothing quite like it. Its nickname is “oyster root,” thanks to its saline flavor, so I like to underscore that by serving it with oysters, close to raw or lightly poached in their own juices. Those grass-like greens have a mild flavor, too but tend to get woody; we’ll mess around with them for sure, but I can’t promise they’ll end up on a plate. Over the course of the long Charlottesville summer, though, and on into the fall, the roots will be drawing in that mineral goodness from the soil. Look for them on our Clifton Inn menu anytime after the first frost.

I will be blogging a three-part series on salsify over the course of the seasons, so keep reading to learn what we do with it next!

Editors’ Note: Please follow along with us as Chef Yoder grows salsify in his Charlottesville, Virginia, restaurant garden, then explores ways to use it.