Will people learn to love salsify – nobbles and all?
A vegetable that was a staple on Victorian dinner tables is making a comeback as Waitrose introduces salsify in 100 stores in the hope of inspiring consumers with a taste of the past.
Common in the 19th century but largely forgotten in British kitchen cupboards today, the root vegetable is being supplied by Albert Bartlett, the potato grower based in Scotland.
Salsify is described on the packet as having a subtle flavour, “a little like a mild artichoke, perhaps with a trace of liquorice or, when cooked, some even claim to detect a hint of oysters”.
The vegetable featured in the Victorian classic, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, first published in 1861.
The vegetable will be available at Waitrose in the black variety, grown in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, as well as a small amount of white salsify, which is grown in the sandy soils of Ayrshire in Scotland. The crop is harvested between September and December and will be on the shelves, in 350g packs for £2.99, until the spring.
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. Traditional turnips are also becoming more popular, with sales up 37% compared with last year, according to Waitrose.
Gary Grace, vegetable buyer at Waitrose, said: “Over recent years we have seen many of the traditional cuts of meat come back into favour and we hope that customers will feel the same about salsify and Fenland celery and enjoy these vegetables once again.”
Although a lesser known vegetable in UK homes today, salsify is still popular in continental Europe, where it has been predominantly grown in Italy and France since the middle of the 17th century. It is also popular among chefs.
Michel Roux Jr, the Michelin starred chef – who is also a “brand ambassador” for Albert Bartlett – said: “Salsify is one of the most versatile and tasty root vegetables – from raw in a coleslaw to roasted with spices. Truly delicious.”
Waitrose is featuring recipes such as salsify tagliatelle with bacon and chilli, and roast salsify with lemon and garlic to coincide with the launch this week of the vegetable in some of its larger stores.
Nina Cooper, a food trends expert at the creative consultancy Dragon Rouge, said: “Consumers are endlessly on the hunt for a discovery and want food with a story – an heirloom variety, a heritage breed, an interesting grower, a local farm. The rediscovery of a longforgotten veg may well pique curiosity, particularly when we’re all looking to eat more healthily and would really welcome a different texture or an edge of new flavour.
“And when we’re in uncertain times, we do tend to look for comfort so a veg with solid, Victorian roots might just fit the bill,” Cooper said.
“For the Instagram generation, it’s not exactly a looker on the shelf. But now ugly, wonky veg are right in vogue, maybe we can learn to love its nobbliness, too.”
▼ White salsify, grown in the sandy soils of Ayrshire in Scotland, will be on supermarket shelves over the winter