Most Neglected Vegetable Garden Crops


Even if you refused to eat them as a kid, even if your mother was too enlightened to try to strong-arm you into eating them, even if the supermarkets only rarely sell them, these food crops are worth including in a spring order:

1. Escarole. When I lived in Brooklyn 20 years ago, this was served in all the Italian restaurants, usually sauteed with garlic, pine nuts, and raisins.  But homegrown is so much better than store-bought. I've tried lots of varieties, from ones whose head is the shape of a bath-mat to other ones with leaves so vertical and thin, they look like an upside-down mop.  All wonderful.

2. Turnips.  You have to be a little perverse to love the bitter flavor of these, and I am.  I like varieties that are meant to be pulled at golf-ball size.  In my short growing season, they are much more successful planted in mid-summer than in spring. Try Madhur Jaffrey's "Mughlai Lamb With Turnips" recipe.

3. Parsnips. They store beautifully all winter, and even sweeten up in the root cellar.  Creamy-tasting, sugary and earthy at the same time, delicious, delicious, delicious.

4.  Potatoes.  If you think these are not worth the space, well, it's widely agreed that they are the most efficient of all crops, yielding the most calories per square foot, which is why the poor 19th century Irish planted them to the exclusion of everything else.  Fresh-dug potatoes are so light and tasty, if you've never eaten one, you've never eaten a potato.

5. Currants.  Absolutely beautiful bush, with leaves like tiny hands.  Absolutely beautiful fruit, particularly the red, pink, and white varieties, which hang in clusters off the plant like beaded jewelry.  Absolutely delicious tart taste.  I have eight big bushes in the garden, and still, severe competition from the kids and the birds on these.

6. Parsley.  As common as dirt.  But curly parsley, homegrown, has an amazingly bright flavor.


  1. I have to add: Swiss chard! Grocery store stuff is wilty and nasty, but fresh out of the garden, it is hands down my favorite green: Tender and mild enough to eat raw in a salad or on a sandwich, but robust enough to stand up to cooking. Also dead easy: Direct sow early, and harvest all summer. No bolting. No fussing. No anything but harvesting.

  2. We grew potatoes for the first time this year. Amazing! And I happen to have the potato catalogue on my desk right now to reorder for this year. But don’t buy too many, because I haven’t placed my order just yet! 😉

    I’ll second the Swiss chard, too. We were still harvesting chard long after everything else had been smushed by frost.

  3. Parsnips? Nasty! They are worse than Lima Beans! But the rest of your list is spot on. But I will substitute Collards for the parsnips.

  4. Oh, I love parsnips–just had them this week roasted with potatoes and sweet potatoes.

    I much prefer flat-leave parsley, and appreciate that it lasts well into November here in MN.

    I have also become a chard fan, and plan to grow some this year. The red variety planted with ‘Strawberry Fields’ Gomphrena is stunning.

    Also: okra, as its flowers are beautiful.

  5. I can’t eat parsnips or turnips – oddly they make my stomach hurt – but my garden would not be right without potatoes & parsley. Currants – haven’t had those fresh since I was a kid & my Grandma grew them. I’ve just discovered escarole & will probably try it with garlic & pine nuts tonight for dinner ( might even let the kids have a bite).

    I have to agree with Joseph & Michelle re: chard. I grow it in winter though ( bolts in the CA summer heat )& love the way it brightens both the garden & my plate during these grey days.

  6. Great list and perfect timing as I am planning my garden this weekend. I will echo all of the swiss chard comments – easy, easy, easy and delicious.

    Turnips and parsnips are great veggies, especially if you want to eat something fresh in the winter. I recently posted on cooking with winter vegetables (including turnips and parsnips):

    I must admit, I have never had a currant (at least not that I know of). I will have to check these out.

  7. I’m with you on currants. But becasue I live in massachusetts, it’s highly regulated due to white oak. Very sad, so maybe I’ll try bush cranberries or lingonberries this year instaed. (I saw something about getting a permit but for my one little pot I don’t want to bother).

  8. Oh, I love chard, too! Just assumed everybody planted it! I always like the white-stemmed Italian varieties way better than the varieties offered in American seed catalogs. Here’s one example:

    Sara, I think the concern is that currants are a part of the lifecycle of white pine blister rust. But I believe it’s only black currants that are really a worry. Farmers do grow currants in Massachusetts.

  9. Curly leaf parsley deserves a lot more love than it gets. It’s sturdy (mine was fine well into December and keeps coming back after temps in the low teens for days at a time) in the garden and sturdy in the kitchen (chopped, it makes tomato sauce much, much better, I think.). Love it.

    But I agree that chard is a great choice for quality and ease. For a small garden, I think it adds a decorative element, too.

  10. My introduction to the lowly turnip was that Mughlai Lamb recipe, I’ll be darned. Turnips have an almost broccoli-ish taste to them when they’re good.

  11. We grew Parsnips for the 1st time this year and I would have to agree!!!! We also planted Rutabegas, and there is no comparison to the store bought. Currants have always been a favorite, and they make some of the best Jelly in the world!!!!

  12. My favorite vegetable from my grandmother’s garden was kohl rabi. She planted them just for me and I was allowed to pick one and eat any time. They are so crisp and have a lovely mild cabbage like flavor. I’ve never cooked them; they are too good raw.

  13. Dirty Girl, I love fava beans. And you’re right–they belong on a list of most neglected vegetables–one written by a gardener in another part of the country, maybe the Pacific Northwest.

    But favas want a long slow spring…whereas in upstate New York, we go from snow on the ground to 90 degrees overnight. I plant them when I’m in the mood, but we never get more than two dinners out of them before the plants burn up.

  14. I love growing turnips for the tops. So sososos delicious sauteed with garlic and olive oil, almost like you’d grow escarole, actually.

  15. Chris, I succeeded with something a catalog sold as black garbanzos–but the beans were so small, they were hardly worth the space.

    I’m trying chick peas ordered from Seeds From Italy for the first time this spring.

    I also love a soup pea called Amplissimo Viktoria that Fedco sells and recommends for hummus. But they had a crop failure last year and sold out before I could order any this year.

  16. Kale like Winterbole and brussels spouts are nutricious survivors under cold weather conditions.
    Vinegar is a usual ingrediant to make them palatable with zero colesterol.

Comments are closed.