A Tudor staple for next year’s experimental crop?

Medieval barn roof, Weald and Downland Museum

So, my new appointment to view television is Tudor Monastery Farm on Wednesday nights, BBC2. We visited the beautiful Weald and Downland Museum in Sussex this summer and were blown away. The vast, unspoiled acreage of down and woodland is populated with scattered original and reclaimed structures from the early medieval through to Victorian periods: a forest charcoal burner’s encampment; a 13th century peasants cottage; an array of incredible barns; and of course the Tudor farm featured in the programme. Most appealing on our visit was the Tudor kitchen – pottage and bread being prepared by demonstrators in near darkness with shafts of dusty light pouring through a small, high window – exactly as in the programme. And the crops – plants I’d never heard of, staple foods from an earlier time. With no potatoes to rely on, the Tudor farmer planted peas – a lot of peas, along with barley, herbs and a range of vegetables. One of which, ‘alexanders’ might just be my experimental crop for 2014…

Alexanders (smyrnium olustratum) are a perfect food for the ‘hungry gap’, that period in early to mid spring when stores are traditionally running low, and new crops haven’t yet come through. The stems and young buds are eaten, and apparently have a very distinctive flavour not unlike parsley, chervil or celery. (Hmm, we’ve been here before – salsify/ mushrooms/ artichokes/ oysters…)

It’s a biennial, so we’ve missed a late summer sowing for a crop next Spring, but could plant again in Spring and see what happens. Seeds are available from here.

PS. There are some amazing courses at Weald and Downland – check out this one on Tudor Christmas food.

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