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Counting crosnes

December 10, 2007 | 10:26 am

CrosnesThe crosnes are back at Weiser Family Farms. But don’t count on being able to buy any until after the first of the year. Because of a very late, very small crop, the first harvest will be going only to restaurants, and even they will have to order them in advance to ensure getting any.

Little corkscrew-shaped tubers, crosnes are very popular among French chefs. Raw, they taste a little bland and crunchy — kind of like a miniature jicama. But they really shine when sautéed briefly, revealing a bittersweet edge that perfectly complements butter’s sweet, nutty flavor.

The Weisers planted them at the pleading of chef Alain Giraud, and last year's first harvest created quite a ruckus when it appeared at the Santa Monica farmers market in early October. This year's harvest is just now showing up. What happened?

So far, the Weisers are the only farmers in California —and one of only a handful in the nation — who are growing crosnes. So any ripple in their supply spreads quickly. And this year there was more than a ripple. First of all, Alex Weiser says, they concentrated the entire crop in their Lucerne Valley farm rather than spreading it into Tehachapi, which naturally made them somewhat later. And then there was this year’s extended warm fall. Since the crosnes form the edible tubers only when the plants start to go dormant, this delayed the crop even more.

And then there were the rabbits. While the Weisers were distracted harvesting an extremely abundant fall potato harvest in Lucerne, the little varmints dug under the fences around the crosnes field and feasted on the plants’ green tops, further delaying the forming of the tubers.

“I’m going to get a shirt made up that says ‘Farming Happens,’ ” says Weiser. “But I promise we’ll have them on time next year. I’ve already made plans. Of course, I say that every year.”

-- Russ Parsons

Photo by Wally Skalij