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Rooting for radishes
radishes and turnips incoming
If you’ve ever tried to supply your family with all or most of your vegetables from just your own garden, you might already understand the importance of radishes. Radishes grow quickly, and they grow well in cold weather.1 Because of that, you can sow radishes repeatedly over the course of the spring for a constant supply of the spicy, juicy little roots and have staggered harvests. Exciting, no doubt, but … then what? How many ways can you eat radishes other than sliced in salad, and wouldn’t you simply get tired of them? Moreover, many children (and probably many adults) do not like radishes, usually because they’re too spicy.
While both of my children have been good eaters, their attitudes toward radishes were quite different. My older son found them exciting from the time he was quite young. One summer when he was just over a year old, we had a small plot in a community garden, and I would take him over to work in the garden with me. We lived in Alaska at the time, which presented new-to-me challenges in terms of both weather and day length.2 We could grow radishes pretty reliably up there, though, so we grew a lot of them. One day, in one of my fondest memories of his childhood, he saw me weeding and decided to copy me by pulling up the plant nearest to him; it was a radish. His face lit up, and he said, “Mama, FOOD!” and proceeded to pull up all the remaining radishes in that row. He ate them all.
Alas, my younger son was much pickier than my older son and would not eat radishes. By the time he was born, we lived in Idaho, where we had a more congenial growing season than we had in Alaska, though the season still started off cold, so we still grew a lot of radishes. And he would not eat them. He loathed them. He was vocally angry at them.
At least, he would not eat them raw. Cooked, though, they are not recognizable as the spicy object of hatred and loathing. They become softer, more mellow, and can absorb the flavors of a cooking liquid. My own mom used to stir-fry them with soy sauce, cabbage, and celery to put over rice or noodles for me when I was a kid, and I had fond memories of that dish, and my younger son would eat that.
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Over the years, I looked for and experimented with different ways of cooking radishes to make them palatable to my younger son, and it turns out I like all these things, too. I may even prefer them to raw radish, although sometimes I like that spicy crunch, too. I especially love it on a sandwich of thinly sliced bread with lots of salted butter and perhaps a little extra salt, or diced up fine on a taco.
But for those who do not like that spicy crunch, or who may wonder what to do with these spring turnips or an overabundance of radishes, I offer two recipes this week:
Radishes also make a fine quick pickle, as do spring turnips. I do not typically do radishes this way, personally, but I always do make turnip quick pickles.
A lot of this post, including the linked recipes, applies equally well to the quick-growing spring turnips, such as hinona turnips (what we grow) or what some of the local CSAs refer to as “salad turnips.” These turnips are not much different from radishes, but are less spicy when eaten raw.
We lived on the Kenai peninsula, which is not quite the “land of the midnight sun” but it was never really dark for a couple of months. Some vegetables are day-length sensitive and either do not grow well or tend to bolt (go to seed) immediately when the days are too long. As for the weather, it was fairly rainy but never got above 70 degrees all summer. Some vegetables love that weather, but many that I was used to growing do not.