After weeks of waiting and watching I finally saw it, germination! 2013 has been an unusually cool spring in Lancaster County, which has delayed many farmers’ plantings and it has meant that seeds have been slow to sprout and grow. But this week our salsify and scorzonera, some of the slowest germinating seeds that I planted this spring, poked their heads through the soil.
Salsify and scorzonera are both “neglected” European root crops in the sunflower family. Both form long fleshy taproots that are said to have a “delicate” flavor, salsify resembling artichoke hearts and scorzonera boasting a sweet “herbal” flavor, like celeriac.
Of these two roots salsify has the longest history of use. It was recorded by the ancient Greeks and Romans almost 2,000 years ago, and today it is grown as a commercial crop in Europe. Salsify is not well-known in the U.S., but it was once a common root crop in kitchen gardens in the 1800s, and it used to be grown in large quantities by the Pennsylvania Dutch in South-Eastern Pennsylvania.
Scorzonera is a recently “domesticated” root crop. Long before it was grown as a horticultural crop the roots were used medicinally. The first record of the plant being used for food dates from the 1600s, and from that time onward several varieties were bred that have larger roots. Today scorzonera is a popular specialty root crop in Italy, France, and Belgium.
Because salsify and scorzonera are slow, and sometimes erratic germinators, I was thrilled when I noticed that ours are germinating en-mass, their thin grass-like leaves reaching for the sunlight.
There’s another seed that’s pushing its way through the soil this week, our late spring planting of emmer, or “farro.” Emmer is one of the precursors of modern wheat, and it is still grown in limited in quantities in Italy which is where “farro,” the Italian name for emmer, comes from.
Right now with the landscape greening and coming to life, waiting for our seeds and young plant to start growing is a challenges to say the least. But as I am reminded with the salsify and scorzonera, the wait only makes the germination that much more exciting.