This post first appeared on goshencommons.org on November 17, 2012
In previous posts, I introduced two plants in the international collection of green leafy perennials growing in my garden: Russian Kale and Italian Cardoon. Today, I want to talk about a third plant, French Sorrel.
When I was growing up, we didn’t have much of a garden, but one plant that we grew year after year in our tiny backyard was sorrel.
Sorrel is a perennial green with a tart, lemony taste to the leaves. I loved picking the leaves and munching on their sour goodness. (As I mentioned before, I was a child with an unusual predisposition to like strange vegetables and fruits).
My babushka, who lived with us, would make a sorrel soup. We called it, in Russian, schavel. She must have learned how to cook this soup in her native Belarus, and I learned to devour this soup with delight. But then my grandmother died; I moved away from my childhood home; and I forgot all about both sorrel and schavel.
A couple of years ago I saw sorrel advertised in one of those seed catalogs that I get in the mail every winter and the thought of schavel compelled me to buy a seed packet of French Sorrel. I planted the seeds next to the asparagus in the perennial garden bed behind the garage. And then I went in search of a recipe for schavel.
My mum did not remember the recipe, but she did have lots of Slavic cookbooks. I perused them with her, trying to find a recipe that was close to what we remembered that her mother, my babushka, made. In “Traditional Ukrainian Cookery” by Savella Stechishin, we found a recipe for schavel that was pretty close but not quite the same. So we modified.
Here is our recipe:
1 onion, chopped
3-4 stalks celery
6 cups vegetable broth
3 cups chopped sorrel
1/2 cup sour cream
Fry the onion and celery in butter or olive oil until transparent and soft. Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Stir in the chopped sorrel and continue cooking. The sorrel will wilt and get soft quickly. Slowly add the sour cream to the soup, stirring so that lumps do not form. Heat through. Season with salt, pepper and dill. Puree the soup in a blender. Serve with homemade bread, butter and more sour cream.
Sorrel is derived either from the Germanic word “sur” or from the French word “surele” that, in both cases, means “sour.” Its flavor derives from oxalic acid, a compound present in rhubarb leaves (which we don’t eat) as well as in spinach and chard (which we do eat). While high amounts of oxalic acid should be avoided by those with kidney problems, healthy individuals should be able to eat sorrel without any problems. Sorrel is easy to grow, comes back year after year and is useful for flavoring soups and sauces.
Sorrel soup is sometimes served with a hard boiled egg, cut in slices, in the bottom of the bowl. Though I have never had this soup with egg, the description in “Here Is Where We Meet: A Story of Crossing Paths”, by John Berger, does make me bit nostalgic.
You cut the egg into slices, and you eat it with the green soup. And the mixture of the sharp green acidity and the round comfort of the egg reminds you of something extraordinary and far away.
Sorrel, green, lemony, tart and altogether good, is a great addition to the homesteader’s garden.