< Vegetables



Rumex Acetosa

A favorite European pot-herb, sorrel (or sour dock), has a pronounced acidic tang, a rich green color, and a pleasing leaf form. It became a mainstay in salads, soups, and sauces. One of its greatest virtues was its early appearance in Spring, supplying a fresh jolt of greenery after the long winter dearth. Over the centuries the name has come to denominate a range of related plants--the herb Patience (Rumex patientia), Spinach dock (Oseille Epinard), the Belleville sorrel (Rumex acetosa), the round leaved French sorrel (Rumex scutatus—the favorite culinary variety in most locales), the wild sheep sorrel (a weed in the eyes of many early American farmers), and wood sorrel, and a host of other related herbs. All are perennial plants. All grow wild in regions of the world and have been harvested or transplanted to beds and pots for human use. All tend to appear early in the season—from March to April depending where one lives. The lemony tang of these plants derives from oxalic acid. Its concentration can be so pronounced that one hesitates adding additional acid to dishes including sorrel. Sorrel soup was a fixture of English cuisine at the beginning of the colonial era, and settlers were cheered to find a range of indigenous sorrels used by Native peoples in their cookery. When cultivated in gardens, propagation takes place by root partition of the hardiest and most prolific plants. It has few simple wants: full sunlight, rich soil, and protection from slugs. It establishes a territory in the garden and becomes a fixture, often supplying the first patch of greenery every season.

Sheep’s Sorrel, a variety native to North America, became one of the more troublesome weeds overrunning pastures and hayfields. Its vitality in certain acidic soils proved troublesome. In the words of one New England farmer, “It grows and perpetuates itself with surprising and fatal vigor” (New England Farmer 3 (1852), p. 341. But sorrel hay proved as nutritious to livestock as the hay it supplanted im the fields.

Sorrel’s acidity has caused chefs over the centuries to view it as a culinary note in a complex chord of flavors in soups and sauces. Invariably, a milder element is married to the sorrel. Because of its ready tendency to dissolve in heated liquids, cooks have used it in smooth-textured soups. In salads, sorrel’s acidity precludes using vinegar. It has traditionally been considered a complement for eggs and is one of the regular greens to appear at the breakfasts table. The following recipes embody the most traditional approaches to the herb.

Though several kinds of sorrels are native to the Americas, the cultivated varieties derive from European horticulture. The most highly regarded of modern varieties is “Profusion Sorrel”

The Common Sorrel     History

differs little or nothing from the wild plant, except that the richer ground of the gardens may render its leaves larger and more succulent. It is the least worthy of cultivation of any of the varieties.

The Broad-leaved Sorrel (French Sorrel or Garden Sorrel)    History

is distinguished from the former by having a larger, rounder, and more succulent leaf, and is a far superior sort, and is the variety generally grown in this country.

The Blistered-leaved Sorrel    History

differs from both the preceding, in having the surface of its leaves swelled between the veins so as to appear blistered. The leaves are about nine inches long, on longish footstalks, and the flower-stems are short and late in shooting, so that the leaves are longer in a fit state to use than those of the others. It is a variety of, the broad-leaved sorrel, but it is not so acid.

The Mountain Sorrel (Rumex montantu)    History

was formerly considered only a variety of tne common species, and is a native of alpine pastures in various parts of Europe. The leaves are large, thin in texture, and of a pale green colour, about nine inches long, and slightly blistered. It is later in running to seed than the common sorrel, and is very acid in flavour.

The Green Mountain Sorrel    History

is a highly improved variety of the last, producing great quantities of leaves, which are very acid. They are of a dark shining green colour, nearly a foot long, and slightly blistered. It is the latest of all the sorts in running to seed, and is altogether the best to grow.

Sorrel Salad (Salads and Sauces 1884)    History

The cultivated sorrel is much used in salads; being too acid to be eaten alone, it is necessary to add other plants to it, and vinegar should be omitted in the preparation of the dressing. Do not cut the leaves, but break them in two if they are large; if small, serve them whole. The common field-sorrel is excellent in vegetable salads; mixed with dandelions and a bacon dressing one has a very good field or camp salad. The wood-sorrel has been used for culinary purposes for ages. A few of its leaves placed between the slices of a dry sandwich will be found very acceptable. When boiled in hot water or in soups its leaves partially dissolve. New England school-boys called it ladie’s sorrel. I received a salad recipe from a German friend, which was as follows: Six young leeks cut into strips, four black radishes slice, half a pound of smoked, dried sausage, and a quart of sorrel, with a plain salad-dressing. Thomas J. Murrey, Salads and Sauces (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1884), pp, 240-21.

Sorrel Soup—a Summer Soup (Practical Housekeeper 1857)    History

Take a good quantity of sorrel and mix with it the top leaves of beet-root; boil them thoroughly; press them enough extract all the water, and chop them until they are almost a paste; when they are quite cold, add the coldest spring water attainable, and mix until rather thicker than cream; cut in thin slices two cucumbers steeped in a mixture of vinegar and a little cayenne; boil three eggs hard, and cut them in very small pieces; now, having chopped the green ends of young onions small, and added to the paste, pour over cream to your taste, and then add the sliced cucumber and boiled egg; serve up garnished with clean pieces of ice. Mrs. [Elizabeth] Ellet, The Practical Housekeeper (New York: Stringer & Townsend, 1857), p. 183.

Sorrel Soup with Eggs (Frugal Housewife 1803)    History

Take the chump end of a loin of mutton, and part of a knuckle of veal, to make your stock with; season it with pepper, salt, cloves, mace, and a bunch of sweet herbs; boil it till it is as rich as you would have it; strain it off, and put it into a clean sauce pan: Put in a young fowl, cover it over, and stove it; then take three or four large handsfull of sorrel washed clean; chop it grossly, fry it in butter, put it to your soup, and let it boil till your fowl is thoroughly done; scum it clean, and send it to table with the fowl in the middle, and six poached eggs placed round about it. Garnish the dish with sippets, and stewed sorrel. Sussannah Carter, The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook (New York: G. & R Waite, 1803), pp. 107-08.

Puree of Sorrel (What to Eat 1863)    History

Wash and chop fine a peck of sorrel. Put two ounces of butter in a stewpan, and set it on the fire; when melted, put the sorrel in, and leave till cooked, stirring now and then with a wooden spoon, and strain it, in doing which you must press on it in the strainer, otherwise it would not go through; then put it back on the fire, wet moderately with Espagnole sauce, simmer half an hour, salt, and use. Pierre Blot, What to Eat, and How to Cook it (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1863), pp. 64-65.

To Stew Sorrel for Fricendeau and roast Meat (American Domestic Cookery 1823)    History

Wash the sorrel; and put it into a silver Bessel, or stone jar, with no more water than hangs to the leaves. Simmer it slow as you can; and when done enough, put a bit of butter, and beat it well. A Lady, American Domestic Cookery by a Lady (New York: Evert Duyckink, 1823). p. 195.

Sorrel in Gravy (Cook’s Own Book 1840)    History

Mince, and put it into a saucepan, with butter, bacon, parsley, and scallions; add a glass of consommé; set it over a moderate fire, and when quite soft, put to it some fowl gravy, or veal blond. Make the sauce thick, and do not let it boil, cover the sorrel when served. A Boston Housekeeper, The Cook’s Own Book, and Housekeeper’s Register (Boston: Munroe & Francis, 1840), p. 200.

Sorrel with Cream (Harder’s Practical Cookery 1885)    History

Pick the stems off of the Sorrel, wash the leaves in plenty of cold water, then drain them, and chop them finely with a head of lettuce, the same quantitiy of young beet leaves, and a little chervil. Mix them well together; then put them in a saucepan with a small piece of butter, and stir them slowly until the butter is melted. Then season with salt and pepper and, when well cooked, add a pint of cream diluted with the yolks of five raw eggs. Serve hot. Jules Arthur Harder, Physiology of Taste: Harder’s Book of Practical American Cookery 6 vols. (San Francisco, 1885), 1:331.

Sorrel Omelet (Cook’s Own Book 1840)    History

Pick, wash, and blanch some sorrel, cut it in pieces, and fry it lightly in a little butter, with shred parsley and scallions; then put the sorrel into a saucepan, with a little cream; season, and let it boil slowly; in the meantime make an omelet in the usual way, lay it on a dish, thicken the sorrel with the yolks of two eggs, pour it on the omelet, and serve very hot. A Boston Housekeeper, The Cook’s Own Book, and Housekeeper’s Register (Boston: Munroe & Francis, 1840), p. 200.