Perennial Veggie - Alexanders
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An umbel of young seeds of Alexanders against the bark of an Italian Stone Pine.
Smyrnium olusatrum
Perennial Veggie - Alexanders

Uses: Stalks
Acquired: 1985
How started:
Source: J.L. Hudson

This was acquired in an exchange with a seed saver in Sweden. This exchange was done in the 1980's, before e-mail was common. We just mailed letters back and forth. I started it from seed in 1985. It thrives in my garden, self sowing itself each year. It especially likes the ground under my Italian Stone Pine tree. Its rich green color is sign that spring has arrived. By the heat of summer, the growth will be all dried up, no sign that anything is still alive there. I like the effect over the seasons.

Alexanders were once grown in kitchen gardens as Alexandrian parsley. Like so many other naturalised edible plants, Alexanders were introduced by the Romans and enjoyed centuries of popularity before eventually falling out of fashion with the introduction of new varieties of celery in the 19th century

John Evelyn, in his Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets (1699) describes Alexanders as “moderately hot, and of a cleansing faculty”, comparing them favourably to parsley. He recommends:

The gentle fresh sprouts, buds, and tops are to be chosen, and the stalks eaten in the spring; and when blanch’d, in winter likewise, with oyl, pepper, salt, etc by themselves, or in composition: They make also an excellent vernal pottage.

Just such a pottage was described by Robert May in The Accomplish’t Cook (1660) with the beautiful concision rarely seen in modern recipes:

Ellicksander Pottage
Chop ellicksanders and oatmeal together, being picked and washed, then set on a pipkin with fair water, and when it boils, put in your herbs, oatmeal, and salt, and boil it on a soft fire, and make it not too thick, being almost boil’d put in some butter.

Roger Phillips’ Wild Food quotes a recipe of 1907, demonstrating that Alexanders’ popularity just about survived into the 20th century.

I nibble on the stalks every once in a while, but the flavor is overpowering after a while. The Cottage Smallholder offers this promising preparation,
Alexanders best use is when the spring growth produces good sized stalks. If they are not too woody, these can be cut, and peeled, then braised in a little butter in a pan for a few minutes until soft. Serve with a sprinkle of pepper. This tastes rather like asparagus and is a real delight.

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