Updated 26th March 2023
Spoonie Veg rating: 1
Ok, my hands are up, I admit this isn’t the most obvious first choice for an individual Spoonie Veg blogpost. Bear with me, and see if I cannot convince you that Sorrel (Rumex acetosa – a non-flowering cultivar) is one of the best and easiest veg to grow when you are low on spoons.
In my post introducing Spoonie Veg, I gave Sorrel a rating of 1. That being: 1-2 requires few spoons, 3-4 moderate spoons, and 5 hard, lots of spoons needed in order to grow that fruit, veg or herb.
Sorrel is one of my favourite vegetables. It’s a hardy perennial vegetable, which means in hard winters it will still will come back the following spring, and in mild winters as the one past has been, you can continue to harvest, though less often, throughout. It can be used just like spinach or chard, but I think it’s even yummier than those, with it’s lemony tang. A lot of people forage for sorrel at this time of year, when it’s new leaves are fresh. If you grow it yourself you can continue to harvest most, if not all, year long.
Sorrel is very easy to grow. It needs a bit of space as the roots can grow deeper into the soil and each year the patch can get larger. My patch (see pics) trebled its size in just one year. This patch is in light shade between October and March, so it doesn’t need the sunniest spot in the garden. One plant of this size is enough for two people to regularly use it in cooking. Just three weeks ago I cut it almost back to just a few young stems, and you can see how much it has already grown. Sorrel clumps up quickly and within a year be enough for a half a dozen people.
Next year I will be able to divide this patch and create a second one. On top of all this, I’ve found non-flowering sorrel to be pest-free. What a plant!
Sorrel can also be grown in containers, but as sorrel can have deep roots, it does need to be a ver large pot (either plastic or terracotta). With sorrel in the ground or raised beds, I don’t worry about watering it unless we go through a really dry period. Container grown sorrel will need watering more often, so you need to plan a few spoons for that task too.
I purchased my young non-flowering sorrel (garden sorrel) plant from Alison Tindale of The Backyard Larder. It is worth searching Alison’s blog for more information about the different types of perennial sorrels worth growing, as well as more recipes.
Sorrel tastes like a lemony spinach. I’ve come to prefer it to spinach as being a perennial there is no annual sowing, it just comes up every year with few spoons needed other than watering if going through a really dry patch. And I find the lemony tang delicious, and even the older leaves, if you cut out the stalks, still taste fresh and crunchy and haven’t gone over into bitterness.
Now cooking sorrel, how many spoons does that take? To some degree it will depend on the recipe, but in general I feel it still fits into the 1-2 Spoonie Veg rating.
It’s pretty easy to pick sorrel. I tend to grab a section of the clump and cut with my pruners, though you can use scissors too. A lot of gardeners will say they love to pick the veg and cook and eat it within a short space of time, to enjoy the food as fresh as possible. However, as Spoonies will know, you have to break down your tasks into micro-tasks in order to have the energy to do anything.
I find sorrel keeps it’s freshness quite well, so I pick it earlier in the day. Preparing it is straight forward, but requires slightly more spoons as you need to give it a wash and cut off the older stalks. To healthy people this might not seem like much, but for Spoonies washing vegetables (or anything else for that matter) etc can be very tiring. So here is how I break down the tasks*:
1. Put the Sorrel in the sink and soak it for 30 minutes or so, and rest.
2. Shake it in the water to make sure you have got off any residual soil etc, then rest.
3. Tear off the stalks of the older leaves in the clump, then rest.
4. Next up is putting it in the salad spinner to get rid of the excess water. There, your sorrel is prepared and ready for cooking.
As sorrel can be used like spinach or chard, you can use it as a substitute for these in recipes. Specific sorrel recipes can be found searching the web. I’ve adapted Alison’s Sorrel and Potato Gratin, swapping the onions for garlic (I’m allergic to onions), and sometimes adding some cheese on top towards the end of the bake. From a spoonie perspective, this dish is great as it is enough for two people, with a bit of salad, for 3 nights. It remains just as tasty each evening, just needing 2 minutes in the microwave to heat it up.
I’ve posted my Sorrel and Potato Gratin recipe, and I’ve also created my own recipe, Sorrel and Mushroom Pasta (above), which my partner and I think is rather divine. And do try Sorrel and lentil soup which is a a nice light soup for a windy and wet summers day. We also frequently add sorrels to omelettes (a sorrel and cheese omelette is divine), curries and stews.
So, have I convinced you that sorrel is a spoon-easy vegetable to grow and eat? How about give sorrel a go and let me know what you think.
*I won’t explain the preparation process in every individual Spoonie Veg post, but I thought it was worth spelling it out here for the first time.
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I welcome your thoughts and comments. And if you blog about gardening with ME/a chronic illness, do link to this post in your blog and leave a comment below with a link to your post, so we can all find each other.
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Gardening with ME: May garden update
Spoonie Veg: growing in raised beds and containers
13 thoughts on “Spoonie Veg: Sorrel”
I have a clump of sorrel that's been growing happily for 5 years – I use it all the time and it had become part of the furniture. It's like a bit of permenantly growing pantry ingredient. I use it most in salads, snipped into shreds. Fabulous stuff. 1 seed, five year cropping. That's almost negative spoons! 🙂
Hmm, could one put sorrel into a pesto? Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall made a UK variation? Walnut & (just checked) parsley. And I've heard of nettle pesto (all using things other than Parmesan) & what with being green & having a lemony taste, that is making me think it must be possible? Not that I've ever eaten it, just based on your description. With your garlic shoots thingies? Hmm. I'm going to have to get some sorrel…
I cannot see why not. With walnut it would give it a nice lemony flavour. Do you have a link you could leave here for that recipe? I'd love to try it. You could also use it with the garlic scrapes (the garlic shoot thingies) to make garlic scrape and sorrel pesto – good idea!
I could try and send you some leaves in a plastic bag if you like. No idea how well they would travel (probably ok if sent quick post), or if it's allowed, but willing to try 🙂
I like the idea of it becomming a permanently growing pantry ingredient – I could easily see it becoming that for me. I think you are right, that is negative spoons!
Awesome i grow the red Sorrel and yes have put it in a pesto along with wild garlic if i did not want to use Basil lovely update have a blessed day
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Posting for La Lynne:
Rather tickled that Linda Penney has indeed tried this and my spider sense was clearly working!
I saw someone serving sorrel pesto on white beans, which is very much speaking to me. And I suppose if you like the pesto idea, you could make a fair whack, as it keeps a couple of weeks in the fridge, so that is always a fine standby?
Many thanks for your kind offer, m'dear! But I have just today looked up the German word (Sauerampfer) and I think my local weekly market sells this! I didn't know what it was! So no need to send it by post (although thank you for the lovely idea!) I can sally forth and get some there. I have also only realised today that 'Mangold' is chard. I thought mangold was mangold in English? Huh! So, I think the sorrel pesto or your sorrel and mushroom pasta, which looks fab, might be getting done if I can mosey on down to the market on Friday. Huzzah!
WALNUT & PARSLEY PESTO
Pesto is, of course, perfect with pasta, but I also serve this one as a sauce-cum-relish with grilled lamb chops or steak. Serves four.
1 fat garlic clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
100g hard, mature goat's cheese (or Parmesan), grated
50g flat-leaf parsley leaves
About 150ml good olive oil (or extra-virgin rapeseed oil)
Juice of ½ lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the walnuts and garlic into a food processor and process until finely chopped – but still with some granular texture. Add the cheese and process again briefly. Add the parsley and blitz again to chop the leaves, then begin trickling in the oil, while the processor runs. Stop when you have a sloppy purée. Taste, season as necessary with lemon juice, salt and pepper. If you don't have a food processor, you can make the pesto with a large pestle and mortar, crushing the ingredients together in the same order.
Store in the fridge – if you completely cover the surface of the pesto with oil so all air is excluded, it should keep for a couple of weeks.
This sauce works great with gnocchi or pasta, or with simply grilled or roasted fish or chicken.
2 tbsp pine nuts
1 small clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1-2 handfuls young sorrel leaves (about 45g in weight)
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, stalks removed
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
30g hard goat's cheese, grated
In a small frying pan over a medium heat, lightly toast the pine nuts until they're just beginning to turn golden, then tip out into a food processor. Add the garlic, sorrel, parsley and a pinch of salt to the pine nuts, then pulse a few times until roughly chopped and combined. Slowly pour in the olive oil, pulsing as you go, until the pesto is the consistency you like.
Spoon the pesto mixture into a bowl and stir in the goat's cheese. The pesto will keep, sealed in a jar with a slick of olive oil over the top, for about a week.
SORREL & ALMOND PESTO
About 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 cup toasted whole almonds
2 medium garlic cloves
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 cups roughly chopped sorrel* leaves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Parmesan cheese for grating
Whirl almonds and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add lemon zest, sorrel, 1/2 cup oil, and the salt, whirling until just blended but still coarse.
Mix room-temperature pasta in a large bowl with pesto and another 1 to 2 tbsp. oil if needed for a looser texture. Transfer to plates, grate cheese on top, and drizzle with oil.
I'm still trying to get my head round which Rumex are weeds, which are edible weeds, and which are cultivated!
It doesn't help that R. acetosa (which I *think* is the non-French eating sorrel: is that what was on your seed packet, Julieanne?) also seems to be called "spinach-dock"; and on the other hand that R. obtusifolius, (which I *think* is the common weed) has an old culinary use in wrapping and preserving butter, just not itself eaten.
Should I be pulling up the docks at Norfolk Park, or should I be eating them?
Are perennial fruit and veg in general pretty good when it comes to spoon ratings? I know I’ve managed to find a combination that turns an awkward corner into a productive little spot.