News - May 1, 2013

Forgotten vegetables

I keep reading recently about 'forgotten vegetables'. Is this sudden interest in them a protest against creeping standardization and globalization or is it simply nostalgia for the past? I don't know. But there is even a real live forgotten vegetables association, launched ten years ago, and a 'festival of forgotten vegetables' is held every year in Beestel in Limburg. Jerusalem artichokes, salsify, cardoon, parsnips or perennial kale - they all take their place in an almost endless procession of bulbs, roots and leaves.

The one that appeals most to my imagination is camelina, known in the past as gold-of-pleasure (and huttentut in Dutch), which used to be grown as an oil seed crop, often together with flax. The leaves were eaten as vegetables and the stalks were used for brooms. A new sub-species grew out of the cultivated variety, with seeds the same size and shape as those of flax. This is how the plants tried to escape extermination, but to no avail. False flax was last spotted in this country in 1931 in Watergraafsmeer near Amsterdam.
In the forgotten vegetables stories, they are lauded for their flavours - some on the sour side, others crisper - much as if they were vintage wines. The internet is bursting with recipes, cook books are dedicated to them and top chefs are including old-fashioned vegetables grown on Dutch soil in their favourite dishes. So what if they now disappear anyway? To be honest I doubt whether I would miss the taste of the Jerusalem artichoke, parsnip or gold-of-pleasure. But I would certainly miss all those lovely names that so enrich our languages.