Thursday, February 23, 2012

East Meets West in This Year's Garden: Chinese Red Meat Radish

Radishes, from Vilmorin-Andrieux, The Vegetable Garden, 1920
AKA Beauty Heart, Watermelon Radish, Shinrimei
The first radishes were not red, white, cream colored, or any version close to what most Americans envision when thinking of a radish.  They were black.  Native to China, black radishes were popular edibles in the ancient world.  Over time, radishes migrated westward, where they became especially important cuisine in early Egyptian and Greek culture.  Eventually, they were cultivated in white, and later, red, forms.
England was among the last European nations to develop a taste for the radish, only beginning to cultivate it around 1548.  Despite their late embrace for this vegetable, radishes were among the early edibles cultivated by colonists in America.  By 1629, colonial gardens in Massachusetts contained these veggie delights. 
The Red Meat Radish that I am growing in this year's garden is an old Chinese heirloom variety.  There is no mention of this radish in any of the old vegetable guides, so it must have been brought to American sometime in the 20th century.  The Red Meat is a member of the Daikon family of radishes, with roots reaching up to 4 inches around, growing best in cool weather.  The outer flesh is a whitish-green, but the interior is a fascinating shade of red, resembling the flesh of a watermelon.  Supposedly these radishes are mild and sweet, with a light peppery zing.  I am anxiously awaiting my chance to find out if they live up to all the hype!

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