The beauty of leeks in fool bloom

Drawing: Leeks in bloom

Everybody knows the typical form of leeks but who knows them in full bloom? If you would like to transform your vegetable patch into a remarkable garden, why not plant them among tulips and daffodils? With their splendid  globe-shaped umbels, they would very well liven up  spring flowerbeds. On the top of that, the leeks’ blossoms, which appear in the second year of cultivation, as they are biennnials, will produce seeds for the next vegetable generation.

Thus the leeks are part of the alliacees family, a close relative of garlic and onion. Botanists found the early form of leeks in the vineyard in the south of France .This wild leek  be transplanted in a perennial vegetable garden.

The region of Rouen, in the nineteenth century, carved out a reputation for improving leeks. They obtained : the “Gros Court de Rouen” which would then become “the Monstrous of Carentan”, or the king of leeks, then the selection will continue with the “Long de Mézières”, “d’Elbeuf”, “de Gennevilliers”, “de Saint Victor”, “Bleu de Solaise”, “Gros Long d’Eté”, “Jaune Gros du Poitou”. All named in 1925 in the Vilmorin catalog. But I am not sure to be able to find them in the official catalog!

The plant is sown in early spring under a protective cover and when it reaches the size of a pencil, it can be delicately transplanted.

The leek likes the rich, deep and cool  soil well in the sun. It remains the sentinel of the vegetable gardens throughout  winter because it does not fear frost nor cold but only a terrible little fly, the leaf miner coming from the  outskirts of Russia. To avoid them, one has to provide a net with tight mesh.

When I was preparing the publication of my book on the King’s vegetable garden in Versailles in summer, I sketched the “ceremony of the net”. It took no less than eight gardeners to extend and place the net above the vegetable patch without leaving any space where the fly would have flown in. It was quite a show. So let’s no longer sulk with leeks, which now have won their _letters of nobility _ not only in the garden, but also at the tables of the great chefs, in particular the young leeks, delicious in spring.

Raphaèle Bernard-Bacot

New radishes to enjoy – “ la vie en rose “ !

Radish drawing

When nice weather is back, one loves the round and pink (rose) faces of the radishes.

Because during this transitional period between vegetables for winter storage, and the first outdoor shoots, they are a delight just as spring itself.No needs to be patriotic to enjoy the freshness of our so called “national” radish, which is picked up early morning like aromatic herbs. Continue reading “New radishes to enjoy – “ la vie en rose “ !”

The turnip and the good friends

Turnip drawing

While turnips have not always had a good reputation among gourmets, they have often stolen the show from other winter vegetables in children’s fairytales. Do you know, for example, the story of the giant turnip – a turnip so monstrous – that it became impossible to uproot!

No matter how hard it was, including even the farm animals, which came to the gardeners’ rescue, nothing helped, until they all fell backwards. Finally they all ended up with a delicious soup with the giant turnip. This Tolstoi tale, in memory of his childhood on the banks of the Volga, continues to make people laugh in the datchas. In France, it is the tale of “the good friends” of François Paul, writing for Père Castor’s famous collection of children books, which evokes the solidarity which links farm animals with each other. In the depths of winter, they brave the inclement weather to successively offer each other a good turnip, found by surprise in the snow.

Thus, the culture of the turnip fed the populations as well as the animals until the eighteenth century, to be then dethroned by the potatoes and the beans. And it was not until 1880 that the root vegetable reappeared with less voluminous foliage and, above all, as a delicious early vegetable.

Turnips appreciate light, cool and enriched soils. Their cultivation is easy, but one should be careful because it does not undergo stress from the lack of water, or excessive heat. If you don’t water them sufficiently, the roots become fibrous, and sometimes bitter.

The turnip comes from the large Brassicaceae vegetable family which includes cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and radish. In Quebec, the turnip is still called “Siam cabbage” because of its Asian origins or “rutabaga” which means “turnip cabbage”. Thanks to a friend, descendant of the well-known family of horticulturalists, I was able to find here an image from the Vilmorin catalog showing in 1925 up to 34 varieties of turnips.

Indeed, like all very old plants, the species has produced many varieties. But the prize for the regions probably goes to the Ile de France. The best known varieties are: the “turnip of Croissy”, “the turnip of virtues”, the “turnip Marteau”, or the “turnip of Montesson”. These first two are part of the early in the season turnips. While late varieties, like the globe white turnip with a purple collar, that I drew here in slush snow, this kind of turnip can stay in winter in the ground, even when it is frozen. Other varieties are harvested in autumn, such as the Nancy turnip or the golden ball turnip.

As for the cooking, in the last century there were still many recipes for turnips in books, simply cooked or as an accompaniment to meat, such as the famous duck with turnips. Now, the new glazed turnips are more popular, as is the French “consommé” of fresh turnip tops, or fresh in salads for the English.

Finally, whatever the season, turnips are grown happily, like good friends.

Raphaèle Bernard-Bacot