Looking to ferment something new? Try Scorzonera hispanica, also called black salsify, is a member of the sunflower family, has quite a few folk names; two of the more colorful are viper’s grass and goat’s beard. Having sons, we saw viper’s grass as an opportunity to entice them with a fermented creation. Snaky words usually appeal to the boy-child set: hence, our Viper Kraut.
Although native to southern Europe, black salsify is eaten predominantly in Germany and the Netherlands. Scorzonera is a perennial, and as long ago as the 1600’s it became more popular than white salsify, an annual. (White salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius, is also known as oyster plant, because of its flavor and texture.) Unlike white salsify, black salsify stays firm when you handle or cook it. Raw, it’s crunchy, with a texture almost like that of coconut with a flavor slightly reminiscent of asparagus. That same crunch and texture makes it an excellent candidate for fermentation.
Okay, here is where we admit it is rare—as in hard to find at the market. So much so that this delicious little carrot shaped root was cut from our book. That said, it is none-the-less out there. We often see it at farmers’ markets—look for the farmer that has the unique and unusual veggies—there is always one that is pushing outside the heirloom tomato box. Of course, you can grow your own.
The roots of scorzonera, or black salsify, are black, sticky, usually dirty, and a bit gnarled, so as a food, in a word, ugly. As a bonus (for the kids, maybe not for the cook), as you clean and peel, your hands will turn sticky and icky colored (orange or brownish black) as well, though that comes off easily when you wash.
Have fun with this ugly duckling: it turns into a swan in the crock.
As soon as you peel the roots, drop them in cool water with lemon juice; this will keep them from turning gray.
You can make a tasty, pure scorzonera ferment, but because of the size of the roots (not big), it’s a lot of work for a small return. Instead, shred the root or make ribbon-like strips with a peeler to dress up a plain sauerkraut. These universal kraut instructions are for just that.
Use the roots peeled and whole in brine pickles as part of a vegetable medley or solo with your favorite pickling spices.