Radishes and Rattlesnakes
If you’re a Sonoma gardener, you know the first things to turn up in the spring garden are radishes and rattlesnakes. I love radishes. Especially the heirloom varieties such as the carrot-shaped French Breakfast, the pink and green hued Watermelon, and the pastel-colored Easter bunch. Love rattlesnakes? Not so much. Especially the ones who take up residence in my vegetable garden.
Not all radishes are red and round. Not all rattlesnakes have to be coiled to strike. As springtime calls sowers and snakes alike to the warm outdoors, encounters with a rattlesnake are inevitable and a sure thing when planting the spring garden.
Heirloom radishes are amazing vegetables and so much more than the little red and round kind you expect to find on your salad plate. Unlike the supermarket hybrids, heirlooms are flavor-focused not process driven. The seeds of the heirlooms, passed down through the generations, preserve the characteristics of the parent plant from which it was harvested. These cultivated plants have been given unique names because of their desirable characteristics that distinguish them from otherwise similar plants.
The rattlesnake, suffering bad PR since the first book of the Bible, is an important part of the natural food chain and I am happy to co-exist with the slithering serpent in my Sonoma garden. A little precaution is all you need when planting and harvesting your radishes. Rattlesnakes are not aggressive and instinctually try to avoid conflict with their unique warning system. Unless you completely surprise a snake by accidentally touching it, you will receive fair warning. Almost always a snake will coil into a defensive posture if they cannot retreat. If continued to feel threatened, they will warn you with their distinctive rattle. Its last defensive move is to strike.
If you do encounter a snake, best to leave it alone and allow it to crawl away. Many a gopher snake has met an untimely death at the hands of a shovel-wielding human because of their distinct ability to mimic the rattler. The gopher, with the coloring and markings very similar to the rattlesnake, can flatten its head and body, vibrate its tail and make the unmistakable hissing sound exactly like the rattlesnake. Your garden-variety garden snake. Best to leave it alone.
Avoid the unfortunate brush up with the rattlesnake and wear elbow-length rose pruner’s gloves when playing in the garden dirt. (The snake’s fangs are quite fragile and cannot penetrate canvas or leather.) Radishes grow best when the temperature ranges between 55 and 70 degrees. Perfect for the Sonoma spring garden. Sow the radishes a couple of weeks before the average last spring frost. Sow seeds a half-inch deep and an inch or so apart in rows spaced twelve inches apart. Sprouting will occur in three to seven days and you’ll have the vegetables of your labor in about three weeks. Harvest the radishes, remove the leaves and quickly drop them in cold water. Enjoy them as the French do by dipping them in various salts or elevate them to the next level with these delicious recipes.
It’s customary in France to eat freshly picked radishes with salt and sweet butter. The creamy butter tames the bite of the peppery radish while the salt enhances its flavor. Compounding the butter with anchovy takes the tradition a step up.
Radishes with Anchovy Butter
6 ounces unsalted best-quality butter, softened
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 squeeze of half a lemon
salt, to taste
2 bunches radishes, cleaned and trimmed
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the butter, garlic, anchovy paste, and lemon juice. Season with salt, to taste. Transfer the butter mixture to a ramekin and serve with the radishes. Enjoy!
Best-quality sweet European-style butter elevates this simple yet singularly delicious dish. You’ll think you’re dining in Provence. A coupe of champagne is the perfect accompaniment.
Radishes and Watercress on Buttered Bread
4 tablespoons best-quality sweet butter, softened
1 narrow baguette, thinly sliced on the diagonal
8 radishes, very thinly sliced
salt, to taste
1 bunch fresh watercress leaves
Spread the butter evenly over several bread slices. Evenly divide the sliced radishes over the bread slices and sprinkle salt over all. Top with the watercress.