Q: Have you ever grown or tasted salsify -- also called oyster plant? My father grew everything possible, including salsify. I would love to find someplace to buy it.
--Margaret Crenshaw, Zephyrhills, FL
Salsify is a long, skinny root vegetable with creamy white skin and flesh. It is similar in appearance -- though not in flavor -- to the parsnip. Because of its distinctive, oysterlike taste, salsify is often referred to as oyster plant. An heirloom vegetable, salsify is infrequently seen in grocery stores today, perhaps because it doesn't store as well as other root vegetables, such as carrots and parsnips. To buy salsify locally in Florida, try specialty produce stores like Giancola's Market in Tampa.
You can also try growing it yourself. Salsify seeds are available by mail order and should be sown in mid to late spring. Grow salsify in the same conditions as you would carrots: loose, sandy soil; full sun; and average water. Sow seeds one-half-inch deep, in rows eighteen to twenty-four inches apart. Keep soil moist until seeds germinate, in about two to three weeks. From germination it will take about one hundred and twenty days until salsify is ready to harvest. Don't worry about the onset of fall weather and frost, as the cold actually sweetens the flavor and improves the texture of the root.
Salsify seeds are available through Johnny's Selected Seeds.