From time immemorial a feud has raged between gardeners and cooks on the score of vegetables. When placed on the table, an irate master has had to complain bitterly of inferior quality (the comparison generally being made with vegetables of the same kind recently tasted at a neighbour's house), and straightway the head of the garden and the chief of the kitchen have proceeded to lay the blame upon each other.
Fig. 42. The Wrong Way Of Lifting Roots.
1, a Carrot gripped by the leaves without the root being previously loosened; 2, the top breaks off in consequence, or (3) the root breaks.
In all probability this time-honoured quarrel will rage for many years to come, and it is safe to say that the roots will be the bone of contention in many cases. Beetroot, Carrots, and Parsnips are all very easily spoiled by bad culture, and just as easily by bad cooking. Beetroot is particularly susceptible. If grown in rich soil, it has a coarse, earthy taste that no culinary skill can refine; and if carelessly dealt with at lifting time it is injured and loses sap, with the inevitable result of bad colour and poor flavour. On the other hand, the best flavoured and most carefully harvested of Beetroot will be ruined if it is punctured and prodded while in the pot.
Between gardeners and cooks, masters sometimes grow bewildered, but occasionally they are equal to the occasion. That one was who, being dissatisfied with the Beetroot served at his own table, stepped quietly into his gardener's cottage one day after he had seen a garden boy carry some roots thither, and shared his dependent's modest meal. The Beetroot on the cottage board was perfect in colour and flavour, and an erring cook was for once brought to justice.
Fig. 43. The Right Way Of Lifting Roots.
B, a Carrot Carefully loosened by a fork.
C, the tops marked for cutting (1).
D, ready for storing.
There should be no hurry in lifting vegetable roots when the season begins to wane. Beetroot is often lifted for August (sometimes even for July) shows, but if there is no summer prize in view, the end of September is quite early enough. By that time the foliage is generally ripe, and ready to part from the root without violent twisting.
It is often advised to twist the leaves of Beetroot off, instead of to cut them, on the ground that there can then be no loss of sap, and consequently of colour. I question the wisdom of this advice. I have known Beetroot from which the tops have been twisted lose colour very badly, with no mistake in cooking to account for it. On the other hand, I have known Beetroot from which the leaves have been cut to retain its colour perfectly.
These facts cause me to look elsewhere than in the mere difference between twisting and cutting for an explanation of the trouble. If the Beetroot is lifted so early that the leaves can only be removed by violent twisting, injury is likely to accrue. It will also follow, if, in using the knife, the crown of the root is touched. On the other hand, there will be no trouble if the leaves come off quite readily on being twisted, nor will there be if cutting is practised, so long as care is exercised to leave 1 inch of the stumps of the leaves, thus avoiding any risk of injuring the crown.
Carrots may be lifted towards the end of September or early in October, and the leaves cut in to short stumps.
Parsnips should not be lifted in late summer or early autumn unless there is urgent need. Early lifting is fatal to good flavour. There is no comparison between the flavour of roots of the same variety in October and in February. Leave them in the ground all the winter, lifting only as wanted, with a few extra now and then to anticipate a frost.
Salsify is best treated like Beetroot, and Scorzonera like Parsnips.
In using a fork to lift roots, be careful to avoid inserting it quite close to them, otherwise the roots will be pierced before the tool has penetrated very far. It should be inserted at least 6 inches away, nearly perpendicularly, and the roots gently prized or heaved out of their position, so that they can be drawn out safely with the hands. If it is worth while to spend seven or eight months in growing good roots, it is worth while to take care of them when they are produced.
There is no better way of storing roots than to build them up into a wall with layers of sand between, placing them head to tail alternately, in order to get them into as small a compass as possible, and finishing with a roof of Bracken. But sand and Fern are not always at hand, nor procurable without expense. In these circumstances, it is well to know that Beetroot, Carrots, and Salsify will keep perfectly fresh, good, and sweet if "clamped" just like Potatoes. First make a shallow pit, and line it with straw, then lay in the roots, cover them with straw, and roof in with soil a couple of inches thick. I always practise this plan, and find it the simplest and best.
Beetroot and Carrots lose their freshness rapidly if cleansed of soil when lifted and left about exposed to air, whether in the dark or in the light. Even a box of sand is not sufficient. They want to be thoroughly covered.
Fig. 44. Storing Roots.
E, circle on storehouse floor covered with sand ready for first layer of roots.
F, the first layer of roots; spaces filled with moist sand.
G, section of a heap of stored Carrots or Beetroot, with sand in between.