Vegetable Stalks and Stems
This group of largely unrelated vegetables comes from various plant families and is grown for a number of culinary purposes. They range from the various kinds of, which are grown for the leaves; to asparagus, which is grown for the young tender stems. Also included are Umbelliferous crops such as celery and florence fennel which are grown for their elongated and swollen petioles (the stalk attaching leaves to the stem) respectively. Rhubarb and Seakale are also grown for their long petioles, early crops of which can be obtained by forcing. Finally there are the leaf beets—including spinach or perpetual beet and the beets or chards—which are grown for their leaves and, in the latter case, also for the sake of their petioles.
The culinary uses are just as varied. It is possible to have fresh spinach for cooking all through the year and large quantities are canned and frozen. Asparagus is processed in the same ways to extend the season when the fresh crop—available from early May until mid-June—is over. Fresh celery for salads and as a cooked vegetable can be produced from August until well into the winter while florence fennel is also used during the autumn and winter period. Rhubarb crowns can be forced in the winter to produce earlier sticks than from outside crops which are available from March until mid summer.
Seakale is blanched to produce crisp, tender petioles—which are cooked like asparagus—during the winter and early spring. The leaf beets, which are cooked like spinach, can be sown in the spring for harvesting in summer and autumn, or in late summer for harvesting in the winter and spring.