The Backyard Larder

A place to explore and buy perennial vegetables and other food plants.

Don’t Skip the Skirret in the Stew

In the early days of The Backyard Larder I wrote a guest post for The Unconventional Gardener about the perennial vegetables I’d started to collect and grow for sale. I described my attempt at making a stew just using the harvestable perennial vegetables I had growing at the time – and how it hadn’t really worked! Well I had another try yesterday which was better – this is what went in it…Ingredients for perennial vegetable stew

Clockwise from top left: Herbs: garlic cress, rosemary, lovage and sage; skirret roots; tree onions; scorzonera roots; sea beet leaves; Minogue onions; Jerusalem artichoke ‘Dwarf Sunray’ and sorrel leaves. 

After taking this shot, I spotted some elephant garlic that I’d hung on the shed door, so I collected a few cloves of those too.

Here are the vegetables prepared for cooking:

Ingredients for perennial vegetable stew

The Minogue onions (bottom left) are a type of pearl onion I think (Allium ampeloprasum var. sectivum), closely related to Babington leeks. They were given to me by fellow gardener, Anna Roberts (@silverleaf79 on Twitter), and have proved to be wonderfully robust growers, clumping up and fattening up quickly over the summer. I just pulled a few from the clump for the stew. I would say they have a flavour mid-way between leek and onion.

Garlic cress in my herb list above is a less well known ingredient too. It is Peltaria alliacea, a herb in the brassica family, which provides a garlicky, mustard flavour.

Now the skirret roots (pictured below) are something that I felt the lack of in my stew in 2011 (hence the title of this post). I’ve got plenty growing now and they were definitely the best part of the dish, so satisfying with their sweet taste and potato-like texture. In comparison, Jerusalem artichokes and scorzonera are easier and more productive vegetables to grow with unique flavours of their own. But they have their drawbacks in terms of cooking – unlike skirret, they contain more inulin than starch, which won’t provide you with much energy and may make you fart a lot. (For some people the windy effects of the artichokes especially can be seriously uncomfortable – very small portions for first-timers advised.)

Skirret roots

(If you’ve been interested in my skirret improvement attempts, I am pleased to report that these skirret were mostly free from woody core. However I rather lost track of which plants I planted where. So I’m not sure if this is a result of my growing on seed from the best plants or just that these plants were dug from the moister conditions in my ‘bog garden’. But I’m getting organised again now! The skirret is now being grown on a three year cycle, a third of the plants will be harvested from the skirret bed each year (the three year old ones), and that section will be replanted with plants grown from seed from the best specimens.)

The other plant which helped to improve this stew was the lovage. Known on the continent as maggi-herb after a well known stock powder of that name, lovage gives a ‘meaty’ flavour to vegetable stews. Whilst experimenting with lovage earlier this year, I learnt to braise it (fry it and then stew it in a small amount of stock) by adapting this recipe for quick braised celery by Delia Smith. This gives such a delicious base for a vegetable stew – a breakthrough for my mediocre cooking skills!

I judged the finished result as not fantastic, but pretty tasty, thanks particularly to the skirret and the lovage.

Perennial vegetable stew

And perhaps one more addition was needed – the leftover stew was really good with yoghurt today for lunch!

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