Radishes metamorphose from seed to plant in a handful of days and, with some varieties, are ready to harvest in a few weeks. This swift seed-to-salad trait is what makes them so ideal for short-attention-span gardeners -- great for kids and kids-at-heart -- and market farmers. Limited land equals careful crop selection. You'd think twice, too, if you had to wait a few months for a crop to be harvestable, even if it was a Slow Food Ark of Taste heirloom grown in only a handful of locations in the state. The outcome ultimately has to be worth the time and space.
Windrose Farm up in Paso Robles -- and down here at the Santa Monica (Wednesday) and Hollywood (Sunday) markets -- has only one variety on the table right now -- the Helios. A rarely seen Czechoslovakian heirloom variety, the Helios once was seen only in seed club membership catalogs and small and independent seed sellers. It also manages to hit three great touchstones for a farm like Windrose -- interesting heirloom, small space crop, short time to harvest (about a month).
The name speaks to the root's butter-yellow exterior (Helios is the Greek god of the sun), but it could just as easily refer to the taste. It's crisp and bright, and seed catalogs will tell you it's merely sweet. And it is, but only at first.
The Helios is a spice grenade. Biting into it pulls the pin. The first taste is almost apple-like -- sweet and crisp with just a slight bitter edge. Give it a minute. The spice builds slowly at first and then peaks to a very pleasant and peppery heat as you chew the last bite. The heat doesn't linger long, allowing you to dive into the next one, maybe slathered with some good French butter.
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Barbara Spencer, co-owner of Windrose, says the goal is to have the Helios year-round. "But we have to make way for another crop," she says. This round of Helios radishes will be in for the next couple of weeks, with a planting pause in early April. She's planning to have them again later in the season.
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