What is Skirret
Skirret is a root crop, distant cousin of Carrots and Parsnips. Unlike carrots and parsnips however, it does not produce a hefty central tap root, but relatively small knobbly tuber like roots that cluster around an equally small tap root. It also does not produce any great quantity, yield per plant is scant in comparison to high yielding carrots, potatoes and other root crops. It's low yield is assumed to be why it has never been commercially propogated.
The word 'skirret' has its origin in the Dutch word “suikerwortel,” which translates to 'sugar-root'. A 1677 manuscript 'Systema Horticulturae' describes it as 'The sweetest, whitest and most pleasant of roots'. It hails from the far east and was introduced to Europe by the Romans. Roman historian Pliny stated it was Emperor Tiberius’s favourite. Englands King Henry VIII [ 1 ], when he wasn't busy chopping off the heads of various wives is known to have dined on it. Somehwere along the line if fell from favor like Henry's ex-wives and disappeared for centuries. Recent years has witnessed a niche market and slight revival.
The plant reaches a height of 3 to 4 feet, the deep green shiny leaves are relatiively large and pinnate [Pinnate; Feather shaped]. It produces delicate white blossoms which are reasonably attractive and known to attract pollinators.
How to Grow Skirret
USDA Zones 5 - 9.
Soil pH of 6 to 6.5 is best.
Skirret cultivation is similar to that of carrots and parsley. The edible off white roots are 5-8 inches long and grow in clusters at the plants base.
It is a cool season crop that can be directly sown after all danger of frost is past. It can also be started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last anticpated frost date.
It is not a crop for the impatient gardener, harvest takes about 6 months to attain. If all goes well a crop seeded in April or May can be harvested in October or November.
Like other root crops the soil should be worked deep enough to remove any physical obstruction to root development.
Suggested planting depth is 1/4 inch deep in rows spaced a minimum 12 to 18 inches apart. Thinning the seedlings may be neccesary once they have sprouted.
To avoid crusting of the soil around the seed-bed, i like to cover the seeds with vermiculite or sometimes a fine compost. Keep the soil evenly moist until the seedlings have emerged.
Full sun is not good for skirret, choose a slightly shaded location, not full shade but partial.
Maintain moist soil and keep the area as weed free as feasible. Skirret needs at least an inch of water weekly during the active growth season. Soak the soil thoroughly when watering. this helps to promote good root development, but not excessively, so as to avoid rot.
Skirret is somewhat disease resistant allthough it is far from immune to any plant disease issues that would effect carrots or celery.
Small rodents such as voles and moles will eat skirret. Root knot nematodes can also be a problem.
Skirret is a perennial. Plants can be overwintered by covering in a healthy layer of mulch in cold regions. The roots from second year or subsequent harvests are higher yielding, but never as good as the first year in quality.
After the initial season the roots become fibrous and only the inner roots core is of high enough quality to devour raw. It still works excellent when softened by cooking. They will sweeten up after a frost and are more suitable at this point for raw eating.
Skirret can be eaten raw and it is a pleasant snack, allthough the roots are harder than carrots or parsnip making it tough on the teeth. It is more commonly cooked, which makes them softer and sweeter. Almost like a sweet potato with a hint of carrot. The spring shoots are also edible and used in Europe as a vegetable.
Some Skirret Recipes
A Skirret Pye - Cookbook of Unknown Ladies
Elizabeth Rainbow's Skirret Pie
Whole Wheat Skirret Galette