In praise of the mighty mangold root
Kiwi gardeners are turning to more unusual vegetables, according to an Auckland seed seller.
Helen Mackenzie says she was looking for things to grow in her garden that were not traditionally grown and came across chia, purslane and italian cabbage, among others.
Together with her son, she grows a wide variety of plants for the kitchen as well as for seed selling.
One of the more unusual finds was mangold seeds. This plant is in the beet family Beta vulgaris, related to silverbeet, beetroot and sugar beet.
There are still some retired farmers, or at least their families, who will remember the growing of mangold crops for stock as a winter feed.
This was the main reason for growing the plant in the late 19th century up until the early 1940s, when swedes and turnips took over as a popular stock feed crop.
Early agricultural clubs for children held mangold growing competitions with winners receiving a national award via the Stuart Wilson Cup. The lad pictured won the cup at the Stratford Show in 1928 for his New Zealand record crop that worked out to produce about 423.4 tonnes per hectare.
Mangolds are also known as mangold wurzels, mangels or mangelbeets. They are from the German word meaning chard root and are thought to have been developed from the wild sea beets grown in coastal southern and western Europe.
They are thought to have been introduced to England by Dr John Lettsome in 1804.
In New Zealand, mangolds grew far larger than their American counterparts, despite farmers there scoffing at suggestions they would grow heavier than their own usual 9 kilograms. Instead, ours grew to a whopping 23kg at times.
Manure, and plenty of it, was the secret to growing a goodsized mangold, and the addition of salt at sowing was said to help. They were, for a time, the most valued feed supplement crop for dairy cows in winter time when grass was short.
Mangolds were lifted and stacked in heaps covered with straw to protect them from the sun for three weeks or so before feeding out. Their high sugar content makes them palatable for stock, but for diabetic humans, a careful consideration.
‘‘They taste sweetish, a bit like beetroot,’’ says Mrs MacKenzie. ‘‘It’s a bit like swedes and other things like that, if you find a way to cook them adequately, there’s no reason why we can’t eat them.’’
The green tops of mangolds are also edible and can be steamed like other greens. There are growers worldwide who make beer and wine from the tubers.
Some studies showed adding salt at sowing improved the yield, and regular weeding and watering are essential.
Koanga Gardens say mangolds can be used in any recipe that calls for beetroot and that they have a sweeter, less earthy taste than beetroot.
The living tubers can be left in the ground and tops picked until required. If they are not to your taste, or you are diabetic, then you may still have reasons to grow this heirloom plant that has played an important part of our agricultural past.
Kings Seeds remind us that they make good animal fodder too. Who knows, if they become popular once again, the mad old English ‘‘ sport’’ of mangold hurling may come back into fashion too.
Winning crop: Harold Willis in 1928 with his national record-setting crop of mangolds.
Beet relative: A variety of mangold available today.