It's the season for root vegetables. Think roasted garlic spuds and celeriac soup

Now We Know: The failure of the spud changed the course of our small island, its people and its relationship with food

 Carrots, beets, turnips  and celery. Root vegetables are full of nutrients, which would have kept our ancestors going through their hard winters

Carrots, beets, turnips and celery. Root vegetables are full of nutrients, which would have kept our ancestors going through their hard winters

 

As autumn settles into itself, chefs and cooks feel a certain culinary thrill towards the potential of flavours that lie in root vegetables – think roasted spuds with rosemary and garlic, or creamy celeriac soup, or bright pink pickled turnips.

Perhaps it is obvious why root vegetables are associated with this time of year; it’s not just about their seasonability but it’s also about the ability of these vegetables to last well in storage even after having been plucked from the ground. They’re also full of nutrients, which would have kept our ancestors going through their hard winters.

“The reason root vegetables and edible tubers contain so many starchy nutrients,” writes home and garden editor Karen Gardner (nominative determinism, anyone?) for Hunker.com, “is because these are the parts of the plants that fuel the growth of the plant above ground.”

Root vegetables are defined as underground plant parts eaten by humans as food, according to their Wikipedia page, which also outlines that “root vegetable” is an umbrella term used in agriculture and culinary arts for two types of vegetables; true roots, known as taproots and tuberous roots, and non-roots which grow from bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers.

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Taproots are parsnips, celeriac and carrots. Tuberous roots include yams, sweet potato and cassava.

In the so-called non-root family we find tubers such as Jerusalem artichoke and our beloved potatoes. Rhizomes include ginger, turmeric and ginseng, and corms include the tropical plant taro.

In a piece for Flavorwire.com, entitled The Untold History of Politics and Root Vegetables, Lara Zarum inserts some drama into our tale of root vegetables.

“Politicians have often played a role in the origin stories of vegetables,” she writes. “Among Charlemagne’s achievements was ordering the planting of the under-represented kohlrabi, also known as the German turnip; Frederick the Great of Prussia helped spread the gospel of the potato in Europe. But we often overlook the more symbolic role that vegetables, particularly root vegetables and tubers – which, by their very nature, are hidden beneath the surface – play in world affairs.”

Look at our own food culture and how it has been shaped – and some may say broken and stilted – by the Great Famine of the 1840s when our trusty tuber, the potato, failed again and again.

The failure of this humble spud – or, more crucially, the failure of the reigning class to intervene – irreparably changed the course of our small island, its people and its relationship with food.

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