James Wong's - Homegrown Revolution


Posted on: February 1st, 2013 by James Wong 8 Comments

I braved the ice & snow of a truly bitter January morning to share this little haul with you.

Just coz it’s bone chillin out doesn’t mean you can’t eat well in the 21st Century veg garden.


It might still be dull and grey outdoors, but just an inch or two below the frozen ground is a buried stash of all manner of weird and wonderful root veg – from florescent purple carrots to sugary skirret. Here’s just a small selection of the kinds of stuff I’ve been scoffing through January…


Purple carrots are becoming increasingly trendy these days in seed catalogues and farmers markets everywhere. Yet the single variety they all stock, ‘Purple Haze’, rather frustratingly only has a thin purple skin, being otherwise boring old orange at its core. What a swizz!

‘Deep Purple’ though (as the name suggests) is darkest burgundy right to its very heart, coming packed full of powerful antioxidants & with the most intensely sweet carroty flavour. These easily knock the socks of any of the ubiquitous supermarket types on every count, from flavour to nutrition.

Although sadly not (yet) stocked by any major catalogues on this side of the Atlantic, for just the cost of a pint or two the many Stateside suppliers will happily deliver the seeds to you anywhere in the world. I picked mine up from Tradewinds Fruit.

Intrigued? Look out for a post on making ‘Deep Purple’ carrot cake with these in a couple of weeks!

SKIRRET Sium sisarum

See these long white roots that look like stretched out parsnips? These are skirret: an ancient British crop cultivated on these islands long before its notoriously tricky-to-grow supermarket cousin (the parsnip) & with a infinitely more crisp, sugary bite. They are also perennial, meaning you will get years of harvests from a single 5-minute planting, just make sure to leave a couple in the ground (tasty as they may be) for next season.

Cook ’em just like you would parsnips – roasted, mashed or boiled – with thier slightly higher starch content making them even more rich and comforting in the dark days of winter. You can even crunch into them raw like little white sugar sticks – in fact the word “skirret” comes from a corruption of its Dutch name meaning “sugar root”

PERUVIAN GROUND APPLE Smallanthus sonchifolius

The great white sweet potato look-a-likes in this picture are they fresh, crisp roots of the Peruvian Ground Apple – which taste somewhere like a cross between Asian pears and waterchestnuts. Probably the single most productive root veg you can grow in the UK (at least for me) capable of producing yields of up to 10kg per plant under ideal conditions.

Curious to know how to grow, cook & eat them? Watch this space for an imminent blog post on exactly how to do this in the next couple of weeks.


Vegetarian ‘witchetty grubs’ with a fresh, nutty crunch. Sadly the continuous driving rain last year didn’t agree with them at all, meaning that instead of being pure creamy white and semi translucent, this year’s tubers sadly aren’t the best quality. This is such a shame as my little clump have kicked out fistfuls of perfect specimens for the last 4 years without fail. Oh well, there’s always next year!

Hugely popular in Japanese, Chinese & French cuisine, they are lovely raw in salads, served as cruditee or briefly pan roasted with lardons and butter. However arguably the most popular way to serve them in Asia is lightly pickled in a sweet brine – often flavoured and coloured with the bright red leaves of Japanese Beefsteak plants (check the pic below, without a single e-number in sight). Truly amazing as part of an Eastern-inspired ploughman’s lunch. Yum!

8 Responses

  1. elaine says:

    Amazing variety and so colourful too – makes our potatoes and carrots sound positively mundane.

  2. Do you have any soil in you garden? :)

    Fab looking harvests – I envy your success with root veg, I’ve always struggled with roots in containers.

  3. REA says:

    Wow! I stumbled on your blog and this is a gold mine of interesting knowledgeable stuff. I’m a health nut at heart and I never seen some of these exotic produce before. I live in the US- New York. Just recently I got hipped to your show on the cooking channel “how to grown your drugs”.


  4. Talli says:


    James, here’s an idea for another blog post. Could you comment on this article on foods that easily regrow from kitchen scraps:

    I see from your blog that potatoes are actually very hard to grow. So this article may not be super accurate. Thanks!

  5. James, I’ve just bought some Stevia seeds and see that the packet says “not for human consumption”. I’m a bit perplexed and disappointed about this because I’ve read an e-book on growing it and using it as a sweetener and I had heard that it can be used in a salad. Could you explain this remark on the packet, please? I wondered if it was a formal sort of thing where people do eat things but it can’t be formally recommended. (I eat rose petals but we don’t see remarks like that on bare rooted roses.)


    • James Wong says:

      Yes, there is a non-sensical and non-scientifically based EU ruling which means Stevia seed and plants can’t be labelled as food products in the UK. Meanwhile extremely highly concentrated Stevia extracts containing 1000’s of time more of the active ingredient are sold in every UK supermarket perfectly legally (by subsidiaries of Coca cola and Pepsi). It’s crazy!

      Stevia leaves are however 100% safe to eat and have been widely eaten for centuries with no reports of ill effects.

      • Thanks. I thought that was likely to be the explanation. I have bought the stuff from the supermarket because it’s convenient, but fancied trying the leaves in a salad. I must get it sown soon, but I’m running out of windowsill space.

  6. Lisa says:

    Hi James,

    I love eating jicama and the only place I can find it in the UK is a specialist grocery store. I found a place that sells the seeds but am not sure how to grow it.

    Can you make any recommendations, or have you tested it in your garden? It’s long name is Pachyrrhizus erosus and it has different names in North America and Asia (yam bean is the one I know now).


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