Kitchen Garden Simon Courtauld
For at least a couple of years, we have been picking sorrel leaves from the same three plants, and they are still going strong. Sorrel may be classified as a ‘soft’ herb but it is remarkably resistant to cold winters and, as spring approaches, the anticipated new growth is likely to last longer than the spinach and chard which were planted last summer and will probably have become exhausted by the end of May.
In view of the age of my sorrel plants, I should divide them this spring, but there is no need to make another sowing this year. Strangely, sorrel is not often found in the seed catalogues, though it may be listed under salads. I have also seen it referred to as a vegetable, perhaps because the arrow-shaped leaves resemble spinach. The most
important thing in caring for sorrel is to cut down the flowering stems, which grow very rapidly in summer, to encourage new leaves to keep coming.
Apart from this cultivated, broadleaved sorrel, there are wild varieties, such as wood sorrel, which were often used in cooking in Tudor England and then known colloquially as green sauce. In the 1970s an eccentric schoolmaster, who taught at Welbeck College in Leicestershire, founded a Sorrel Society to promote the distribution and enjoyment of all sorrels. But any success it may have had was limited and shortlived, as the society did not outlast the schoolmaster, who died some years ago.
Sorrel is not widely appreciated these days, except perhaps by those who have some knowledge of French cuisine. Charles Ryder (in Brideshead Revisited) enjoyed ‘a soup of oseille’ for dinner at Ciro’s in Paris with Rex Mottram; and I can highly recommend a sorrel omelette and a sorrel sauce with fish. True, the leaves of sorrel have a slightly sour or lemony flavour which may be off-putting to some people, but this can be moderated by adding a few young spinach or nettle leaves. It is also worth mentioning that sorrel contains oxalic acid, which should be a warning to those with gout or rheumatoid arthritis.