JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Saturday, March 03, 2007


This scruffy-looking plant is my sorrel patch. Every garden should have one: the taste of sorrel is like nothing else - and I've never seen it for sale anywhere, not even in France.

In some ways it's like spinach, only with a lemony sharpness to it, and none of that Popeye'd metallic feel on your tongue. Just like spinach, it cooks down to nothing - a sludgy khaki-coloured nothing, rather than that deep rich yet bright spinach green. You can use young leaves raw in a salad to add piquancy.

It's an easy plant. Mine grow in an east-facing bed, with poor stony soil, and no attention from anybody, except harvesting. I was given two or three roots, probably in the autumn. It's a perennial plant, the sort that looks after itself, and just appears again when the days are noticeably longer, the air a little warmer. Now is a good time to sow seed, and I don't think they're particularly difficult to propagate. I should think they'd do well in a pot, although I haven't tried.

Grow it near the kitchen, so that you can easily keep picking a succession of young leaves - they appear out of the ground all summer like red spears before unfurling a shield-shaped leaf. Cookery books tend to specify "a handful", and that's because you can't buy it. Don't worry too much about quantities, but remember that however you are cooking your sorrel, one handful per person is plenty, even though it cooks right down, because even the young leaves have a strong taste.

This week our roast chicken was accompanied by a little mess of sorrel cooked in the water that clung after washing. Three or four minutes in an uncovered saucepan, keeping an eye on it, keeping it moving with a wooden spoon, cooked at the last minute whilst dishing up the rest of the meal. Next time I might stir in a little fromage frais to make a sauce. Or serve it with fish. Or add it to an omelette. Sorrel makes all of these dishes special - and keeps people guessing, since it is not well known in this country.

A real treat, even if gardening is not really your thing, although it may be if you have found this link through weekend herb blogging (this is the first time I have taken part in a blog event, so please forgive me if I've done it wrong).


Kalyn Denny said...

Great job! This is a great entry for Weekend Herb Blogging. I've only eaten sorrel in salad, but it was love at first taste for me. I found some in Salt Lake at the Farmer's market last summer, but now you've encouraged me to try growing it. I like the idea of picking the young leaves as they appear. I wonder though if it gets too hot here for it, other plants like spinach and such go to seed rather quickly in the summer here.

If I can find it again, I think I must try it cooked next time.

Ilva said...

You almost make me want to grow it...

Helene said...

I love sorrel, and you´re right it is very intense. I use it in soups.

Joanna said...

The sorrel in my photograph is the common one, rumex acetosa, which is a perennial of European hay fields. It likes cool, damp soil (not too rich), so Kalyn a north facing bed would probably be best for you.

There's another sort, called French or buckler-leaved sorrel, Rumex scutatus, which is more delicate, and which may be more suitable (you do the same picking and picking as the shoots appear): it likes a drier and better-drained soil than R acetosa.

You can sow both now, or propagate by division, which would mean finding someone with a plant ...

btw, I looked all this up: Vegetables by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix
Creative Vegetable Gardening by Joy Larkcom

Both RP and JL write really useful books, full of reliable and interesting information. Sadly neither book had American zones in, and I couldn't find any information about that in any of my gardening books

Good luck!

Kalyn Denny said...

Joanna, thanks for the added info on sorrel. I have some north facing flower beds, I wonder how it would grow mixed with flowers? Maybe I will try it this summer. I 'll ask at the garden center where I shop.

Joanna said...

No problem ... one of my books suggested that it would make a good informal edging to a border! You do need to put it as close as you can to your kitchen, so that you really do keep picking it all the time

Anonymous said...

This scruffy-looking plant is my sorrel patch. Every garden should have one: the taste of sorrel is like nothing else - and I've never seen it for sale anywhere, not even in France.
French sorrel is very tasty:)

Joanna said...

The sorrel in the anonymous link is what gardeners call buckler's sorrel - after the shape of the leaf, which is like a medieval buckler shield. People say it is finer in taste as well as appearance than the common sorrel, but I've got no complaints about my scruffy but delicious sorrel!