Salsify and scorzonera are two vegetables often grouped together for their similar looks and flavour. Salsify has light brown skin and white flesh, whilst scorzonera has dark brown or black skin with white flesh. Both produce long slim roots, with scorzonera the slightly longer variety with roots up to 1 metre in length. Both plants benefit from well dug soil, ideally light rather than heavy, which should be kept moist through the growing period to avoid the plants bolting in hot weather.
Why grow these slim varieties in preference to carrots and parsnips that have more 'body'? One answer is availability, as neither salsify or scorzonera are commonly seen in supermarkets. However, the main reason to grow them is for their highly regarded flavour. Salsify is sometimes referred to as the 'oyster plant', describing its light and nutty flavour. The vegetables can be used in place of carrots in coleslaw, or steamed, boiled, or roasted in the same way as carrots or parsnips. The one difference is that it is better to cook (well scrubbed) salsify and scorzonera first, and peel afterwards. The raw white flesh blackens when peeled and uncooked.
Some people choose to grow salsify and scorzonera for their beautiful flowers. Salsify has purple pink flowers and scorzonera yellow flowers. If growing for food, sow seed in the spring and thin the seedlings to approximately 15 centimetres or 6 inches apart. The roots will be fully formed from mid-September onwards, and can be left in the ground and harvested as required in the winter months. The slim roots are not the easiest to dig up, and this needs to be done carefully to avoid breaking the roots.