“Salsify,” a near-forgotten root vegetable once a staple of Victorian Britain, is making a return, thanks to the apparently bottomless appetite for “traditional foods and ingredients.” Truly Brexit is reaching dire new territory.
The Guardian reported that UK grocer Waitrose is making salsify available through the spring, billing it as “a little like a mild artichoke, perhaps with a trace of liquorice or, when cooked, some even claim to detect a hint of oysters.” So, it tastes vaguely of dirt, like every other root vegetable. While it hasn’t been very popular among home cooks in the UK in the last century, it was well known in the 19th, with recipes appearing in the iconic Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. (If you haven’t, everyone should read the absolutely fantastic The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton, by Victorian scholar Kathryn Hughes.) Before the era of refrigeration and global supply chains, you had to take what you could get in the winter months.
The Guardian explained that apparently oddball old English veggies last eaten by Dickens are quite popular lately, including a nice Christmasy variety of celery:
Waitrose said the revival was part of a broader trend of increasing customer demand for traditional foods and ingredients. The supermarket chain, part of the John Lewis Partnership, is also introducing Fenland celery – popular in Victorian Christmas markets in London – in selected stores.
Grown in the flat deep peat fields of East Anglia using a traditional growing technique, Fenland celery is whiter than standard celery and has a sweet and nutty flavour.
Traditional turnips are also becoming more popular, with sales up 37% compared with last year, according to Waitrose.
This is probably a more ecologically friendly and sustainable way to eat, though it’s hard not to get some low-key nationalistic vibes off skyrocketing popularity in traditional turnips. But really, now is the time to eat like a Victorian—in the actual Victorian era, before health and safety regulations and good lighting, God only knows what you were actually putting in your mouth.