We know what you’re thinking… what on Earth is a skirret?!
Sium sisarum, commonly known as skirret, is a root vegetable in the Umbelliferae family of plants. The skirret plant grows clusters of long, knobbly, edible roots, which can grow up to a metre or so in length. Each individual root looks a little like a parsnip or carrot in appearance and, when cooked, has a firm texture and a sweet, nutty taste.
Although almost unheard of in British supermarkets today, the skirret is surprisingly easy to grow. It is a perennial plant and is resistant to cold as well as to many pests. It is therefore little wonder that the skirret was a staple food in Medieval Britain.
Following the introduction of the potato to the British diet in the late 16th century, the popularity of skirret declined. By the early 1700s skirrets were being used less widely and by the turn of the 19th century they had disappeared from most recipe books altogether. Our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies suggests just one dish using the vegetable: skirret pie.
A Skirret Pye
Take the largest skirrets you can get & parboyle them & peel them & season them with cinnimon & powder sugar & put them in a dish with a good deal of fresh butter & some sliced citron & candid orange peel & candid eringoroot, 3 spoonfulls of rose water, 4 of white wine, some Jerusalem hartichokes boyled & sliced. Make it with cold butter paste. When it coms out of the oven, have ready a caudle made of half a pint of sack, some sugar & nutmeg & the yolks of 4 eggs & a print of butter poured on it very hot & the lid laid on it again.
There’s a fantastic article about skirrets in the Food History Jottings blog, complete with photos of an impressive reconstruction of a 17th century skirret pie. Well worth a look!