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Scorzonera is a long thin black-skinned white-fleshed root vegetable of the daisy family. It is closely related to the salsify, and indeed is frequently called salsify. It was introduced to Britain from Italy in the early seventeenth century, and caught on fairly quickly (a letter written in 1666 records how ‘Colonel Blunt presented the company … with excellent scorzoneras, which he said might be propagated in England as much as parsnips’), and although it has never become a mainstream British vegetable, it has started to reappear on supermarket shelves in recent years (usually in the guise of salsify).

The name scorzonera (which not surprisingly was subjected to several orthographic contortions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as skarsinarie and schorchanarrow) comes from Italian, where it is a derivative of scorzone. This was a term for a ‘poisonous snake’, and its application to the plant is probably a reference to its reputation as an antidote to snake-bite (scorzonera used to be known as viper's grass in English).

Subjects: Cookery, Food, and Drink.

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