Forgotten vegetables

Text : Marie Josèphe Moncorgé. Translator: Jean-Marc Bulit

This page is about some vegetables, which have been known in Europe since the 17th, 18th or 19th century, and let down and forgotten afterwards.

Who's forgotten what? Which vegetables have we forgotten?

This non exhaustive list is only about vegetables other than the medieval vegetables. Parsnip, orache or rampion for instance, which were known in the Middle Ages and later let down and forgotten, are not on this page.

In 1986, François Couplan, a specialist about edible plants, published a list of 41 "forgotten" vegetables in France. Neither salsify nor scorzonera are on it, but Couplan put dandelion, broccoli and cardoon on his list. This is to say how dependent on the time, region or social class the forgotten vegetables are!

The list would surprise a rural Frenchman, who regularly picks dandelion and fixes the leaves into a salad, but are there that many city dwellers today, capable of recognizing dandelion from other weeds in a field?
Broccoli, just as well, was practically unknown in France in the nineteen eighties but is found in abundance in these millennium years. And cardoon is in fact little known but nevertheless found in many gardens and in the local markets between Lyons and Avignon.

Some people, who were young in the nineteen fifties, have eaten salsify or crosne (i.e. Chinese artichoke). The older people have bad memories of rutabaga or topinambur (i.e. Jerusalem artichoke), which are associated with the food restrictions of the Second World War. But the younger ones would imagine these as vegetables from the Middle Ages!

Actually many forgotten vegetables today rediscovered by the "Nouvelle Cuisine" aren't that ancient: the oldest hereafter are known in France since the 17th century. Crosne goes back to the end of the 19th century. They gradually reappear in gardens; Jerusalem artichoke, in season, is even found in supermarkets!

Forgotten vegetables

This list does not include the vegetables in Medieval Europe.

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Chineses artichoke or crosne or knotroot

Chinese artichoke: Mint family, genus Stachys affinis.

It is a slightly sweet tuber with a flavour close to that of salsify or artichoke. Origin: Japan, Korea, China. Crosne is the French appellation, after a village in Essonne, where the plant was first cultivated when introduced in 1882. Chinese artichoke is eaten boiled, steamed, with a white sauce, with cheese topping, fried or in a salad. It can also be pickled in vinegar (Chorogi, the Japanese name).

An other vegetable - Top of page

Jerusalem artichoke or Topinambur

Oldcook: forgotten vegetables - Jerusalem artichoke or topinambur

Drawing from Janine Bouchut

Topinambur: Family Compositae, genus Helianthus tuberosus.

A tuber plant tasting like artichoke, cultivated like potatoes, but sister to the sunflower! Origin: Canada, where the Indians grew it. It is also called sunroot or sunchoke. In English, the plant was first called Girasole, the Italian word for sunflower, which derived into “Jerusalem” artichoke. According to professor Mathon, topinambur arrived in France in 1607. It was erroneously named after a tribe of Indians from Brazil present in France at the time the tuber was introduced: these Indian friends of France were the Topinambu (or toupinambaoults according to Jean de Léry in his 1557 ship’s log in Brazilian land). This is why topinambur is sometimes said to come from Brazil.

As with rutabaga, the hardy topinambur was a staple food in France during the Second World War and has thus inherited a bad reputation. Jerusalem artichoke is eaten like potatoes: cooked in water, with butter, cream, sauce, cheese topping, fried or fried in batter. It can also be prepared raw in Remoulade. It is harvested from November to March. But early sunroot tastes bette.

Text : Marie Josèphe Moncorgé. Translator: Bruce Lee


Oldcook: forgotten vegetables - rutabaga

Album Vilmorin, planche n°13, 1862

Rutabaga: Cruciferae family, genus Brassiceae campestris

Rutabaga comes from the Swedish word rotbaggar. It is also called swede or yellow turnip. It has the same leaves as cabbage and the white fleshed roots of turnip. Its taste is a mix of the two. This biennial plant has been eaten in France since the end of the 18th century. It is harvested in October or November. Rutabaga is cattle food today, but, due to its hardiness, it has been eaten by humans during periods of food restrictions (notably during the 2nd World War), thus its bad reputation.

An other vegetable - Top of page


Oldcook: forgotten vegetables - salsify

Purple salsify, photo J. Bouchut

Salsifis: famille des composées, genre Tragopogon porrifolius.

Also called the oyster plant, [purple] salsify is a biennial plant with a 10 to 15 cm long white fleshed root. Origin: Mediterranean Europe and North of Africa. The name comes from the Italian salsifica. Olivier de Serre spoke of it in 1600, in the "théâtre d'agriculture et mesnage des champs", stating that another root of value had reached their cognizance a short time ago, that held honorable rank in the garden, the sercifi...

Salsify is harvested between October and April in regions with mild climates. Salsify is cooked in water then prepared with a white sauce, butter, with sauce poulette, with cheese topping or fried in batter.

An other vegetable - Top of page

Scorzonera or black salsify

Scorzonera or black salsify: Family Compositae, genus Scorzonera hispanica.

A hardy plant with a black root close to that of salsify. Origin: South of Europe, Caucasus, South of Siberia. The name comes from the Italian scorzonera, borrowed from the Catalan escuçonera, a derivative of escurço that means viper: scorzonera is reputed to heal viper bites. As salsify, the plant arrived in France from Italy at the start of the 17th century. Harvested from October to April, scorzonera is prepared like salsify.

An other vegetable - Top of page

Légumes oubliés