Asians Eat Giant Radishes
Scores of species of Chinese origin are grown as vegetables in China and Japan, but among them only radishes, Chinese cabbage, certain forms of mustard, and soybeans are commonly found in American vegetable gardens.
Radish (Raphanus sativus) gets its English name, as well as similar names in French and Italian, from radix, the Latin word for "root,'' especially a radish root. The technical name of the genus, Raphanus, is a Latinized form of an old Greek expression raphanos, freely translated as "easily reared" an apt name.
Many ancient as well as modern names are known in many languages, indicating the long history of cultivation of this plant. China is believed to be the country of origin, since truly wild forms have been found there. Middle Asia appears to be a secondary center where many different forms developed after the plant was introduced from China in prehistoric times.
Ancient Egyptian records show that radishes were a common food in Egypt before the Pyramids were built.
Radishes were so highly valued by the ancient Greeks that small replicas of them were made in gold; beets were shown in silver and turnips in lead. The Greeks of the third century B.C. wrote of the radishes of their day, and an ancient Greek physician wrote a whole book about the plant.
The Romans, at the beginning of the Christian Era, also were familiar with the radish. Their writers described various kinds, including the small, mild, early, round, and long forms (like ours) as well as the large later types weighing several pounds each.
100-pound Radishes Reported
The large, late radish seems to have been known in northern Europe and England much longer than the small, early kinds. This big radish was more like the present Oriental varieties than our kinds. It was described in Germany in the 13th century, but no small ones were recorded in that part of Europe until the middle of the 16th century.
A German botanist in 1544 reported seeing radishes weighing a hundred pounds.
Radishes have been found as escapes from cultivation in Spain, Sardinia, and Greece.
Some have claimed that the radish was unknown in England before 1548, but that seems hardly probable in view of its early importance among Mediterranean peoples and its ease of culture almost everywhere. It was common in England in 1586.
Radishes were seen in Mexico about 1500 and in Haiti in 1565, indicating that they were among the first European crops introduced into the Americas by Columbus and his immediate followers. They were among the first crops grown by the English colonists in this country, and have been popular here ever since.
Pickled Radishes Popular in Orient
In China and Japan, most of the radish crop is pickled in brine, in much the same way that we pickle cucumbers. Nearly a third of the tonnage of vegetables grown in Japan is radish (daikon). The radishes are pickled whole in large tubs, with rice hulls added to the brine. The pickled product assumes a rather attractive yellow color but, to the Westerner, a most unattractive odor.
This pickled radish is a staple item in the diet of every Japanese. It is salty, sprightly in flavor-even though offensive to uninitiated Westerners-and adds savor and zest to his predominantly drab diet of rice. The radish, however, is low in food value. Some of the Oriental varieties are grown for cooking.
In China, one kind of radish, without an enlarged root, is grown for the oil in its seeds.
In India the rat-tailed radish (Raphanus caudatus) is grown for its fleshy, edible seed pods, which reach a length of eight to twelve inches. In Egypt and the Near East another form is grown only for its tops, for greens.
While there is probably nothing actually unwholesome about the tops of our varieties, they are far less palatable than leaves of turnips and other members of the cabbage clan.
Round radishes range in size from that of a cherry to that of a basketball; long ones range from the size of one's finger up to more than two feet long and five or six inches in diameter. These very large kinds, grown in the Orient, are started in plant beds, then transplanted to the field or garden, about a foot apart in the row. They are harvested in late autumn or early winter before danger of their being frozen. Oriental spring radishes are not so large. Oval or olive-shaped radishes are also known.
Radishes of white, red, or red and white are the commonest in America. Few gardeners grow the Round Black Spanish or Long Black Spanish, which are medium large, with black skin and a pungent, firm, crisp, snowwhite flesh. These, along with the faintly rose-colored China Rose and the White Strasburg, belong to the group of so-called winter radishes, which can be stored in the same way as beets and turnips.