Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Novel Vegetable: Black Raddish

Lately I've been writing a series of posts about plants I found on a trip to central Alaska (the-biologist-is-in.blogspot.com/search/label/Alaska). I realized last night that I had enough posts on the topic written up or planned to fill out much of the next few months at my every-Tuesday-plan. So instead of this becoming the Its-Tuesday-Alaska-Time blog, I'll swap posts on other topics into the schedule as I see fit. I might even double up and push through more than one Alaska post a week. We shall see.

On a whim, this year I grew a patch of black radish from seed ordered online. Some time after ordering, the radish seeds and those for a few other root vegetables arrived in a package with Slovenian postage. I had no idea I was ordering from Slovenia. You can end up ordering from surprising places sometimes.

As our garden was still being built, I didn't have a place to grow the radish until a couple of good friends stepped up and donated the space in one of their garden beds for the season for several experimental vegetables.

The radish plants started up quickly and thrived, producing lots of huge green leaves. I had read that they were a larger and longer-season type of radish than the typical small-red radish I find in local stores. I wasn't sure when to harvest the roots, so I let them go (and grow) until they [the plants] told me it was time. On recent trips to the garden, I noted more and more of the plants have been bolting. Each time I pulled out the flowering plants, to prevent any early-flowering genetics from making it into the next generation. I tried eating some of the culled roots and found them to be very pungent, but also somewhat wooden. I know radishes become less ideal as food when they start blooming, so perhaps I should have culled a random good plant for sampling instead.

I finally gave in and harvested what remained of the crop a few days ago (27-July-2015). There were many small-rooted plants in the mix, which I promptly discarded so to select out the loser genetics they represented. (The plants that didn't fight their way to the top aren't the ones I want to save seed from, even if they could have done much better with more thinning.) As I was pulling the plants out, I realized a minority of the population had developed a lovely purple color on their stems. The photo at right shows the result of my rough sorting of the plants by size and color as I went.

The purple-colored plants didn't produce the largest roots, which was one of my final selection criteria, but I decided I really wanted the color mixed into the next generation. I chose two of the most colorful plant, as well as two of the largest rooted plants, for my final population to produce seed for next year.

All four plants have been replanted in a large pot, where they can mature further. The plants look really sad right now, but I'm confident that they will recover and produce a batch of seeds.

All of the sizable culled roots went to a neighbor of the host gardener. She is using them to prepare a lacto-fermented condiment that is somewhat similar to sauerkraut. The root is relatively fibrous and highly pungent, leading to it best being used like one would use horseradish. The grating and fermentation will break up the fibers and temper the pungency somewhat. This is a traditional European recipe from the era before refrigeration and is one of the ways black radishes are typically used where they are more commonly grown in Europe.

After looking into radish recipes a bit, I'm thinking about making chips from the black radish next year. As you might imagine horseradish chips would be a problematic food item, I expect black radish chips will take a few trials to get right.