The modest yet flamboyant radish, that little harbinger of spring, has a most distinguished history. The people of the Levant – Turkey to Ethiopia – were the first to enjoy their crisp texture and sometimes spicy flavor. The radish travelled to Europe through the Mediterranean basin to what is now Europe, charming all on its way. Then, it most likely wasn’t round and colorful, but rather long and perhaps black, or white. It arrived in Paris in the 18th century, immediately became a royal necessity, and was cultivated year round in a rich blend of soils and ample protection from the cold, ie. fanciful greenhouses. From that early radish came the red and white version so beloved today, a true French invention.
Radish as Political Symbol
And like many a French invention, it became political. There is a saying from the Third Republic of France, which lasted from 1870 to 1940, which linked the radish with radicalism, because the words in French share the same root, radi: “The radical is like a radish, red (communist/workers movement) on the outside, white (royalist) on the inside”.
The radish is a member of the crucifer family, its cousins cauliflower and kale, cresses, bok choy, broccoli, and more. It can grow year round when conditions are right, yet it truly appears here in abundance in early spring. There are so many varieties, but the favored one is the small, elongated, red and white version. That said, as botanists let their imaginations go wild, they release varieties in colors from gold to purple, and in size approaching that of a small soccer ball.
They all share a crispness. Those that are on the market stands early are the juiciest because they’re from the greenhouse and have been pampered; later versions are still crisp and delightful, and begin to develop their spice, for spice is a sign of suffering. When a radish lacks water, it develops heat.
Radish to Amuse the Mouth, With (or Without) Rosé
While there don’t seem to be statistics available, the French consumer an enormous quantity of radishes each year, most of them served as amuses-bouches, or appetizers. Always presented with butter, salt, and bread, they are a vegetable filled with flavor and cheer. With a glass of rose, the radish makes an ideal start to any meal.