There is a very detailed account on the internet of the history of the rat-tailed radish, claiming it to have been introduced into England from Java in the year 1815. The author of that blog also claimed the pods were “introduced” to the public with information about their history and culture during the International Horticultural Exhibition in London in 1866.
I’m sure, Mr. Bull, did actually present the radish pods at the Exhibition, but the idea of eating radish-pods certainly was not new at that time. Any radish, if left to bolt and go to seed, will produce an edible seed pod. The length the pods can attain before becoming tough and stringy varies between species. There are varieties which are grown strictly for their seed pods and produce no root other than a skinny little tap-root too small to harvest.
John Evelyn said in his Acetaria, published in 1699, that, “seed pods of this root make a pretty sallet”, and in so doing, may be one of the earliest accounts of pickling edible radish pods. – 1699. London.
seed packet, rat-tail radish
In his blog, Ivan Day says he was asked to identify the plant depicted on a silver tureen held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and his answer was that it was the rat-tailed radish. The tureen was made for the Duke Albert Casimir of Sachsen-Teschen and his wife who died in 1822 and 1798 respectively. At best, his identification places the rat-tailed radish in European gardens prior to 1798. At worst, the plant depicted on the tureen is another very similar type of edible pod radish which the rat-tail may have been bred from. Either way, the edible pod radish, one species or another, was being grown and eaten during the 18th century.
Batty Langley in his, New Principles of Gardening published in 1827, instructed his readers as to the culture of radish pods. His account is for the ordinary kitchen radish which, if left to bolt and make seed, will produce edible pods, but they are smaller than the varieties of radish which are grown for the pods rather than the roots.
The stalks are round, of a reddish and pale green colour, divided into many small branches, at whose Ends spring forth small light purpled colour’d Flowers, each consisting of four leaves only, which are succeded by sharp pointed pods, seemingly puft or blown up, and full of a spungious or pithy substance wherein is contained the seed…Their Parts for Use. The Seed Leaves, and Roots when as large as the thick part of a common Tobacco Pipe, and the Seed-Pods make a very fine Pickle. The Quantity of Seed-Leaves, in a Sallet of small Herbs, ought to be three times the quantity of any other; and for the Radish Roots, they may be eaten at Pleasure.
In 1830, John Towers left us with instructions to leave some plants in the original beds; by which means seed could be procured for the next year’s plantings by harvesting the seed pods of the common radish. Indeed, many of the receipts which instruct in the pickling of radish pods may be using the pods formed on the common kitchen garden radish, but there accounts which seem to indicate there were varieties grown purely for their pods much earlier. – The Domestic Gardener’s Manual. 1830. London.
The best known variety of radishes grown strictly for their pods is the rat-tailed radish. In 1871, a gardener said it had been introduced, “a few years hence”, which seems to agree with the date of the Exhibition in London. He described a radish which produced a, “large bush”, which although he gave no idea of the plant’s height, would seem to be at least two feet to be likened to a bush. He thought it rather curious and suggested every gardener grow a few in pots or warm sheltered areas outdoors. – Loudon, John. The Horticulturist. 1871. London.
Accounts of the size of the pods were hugely exaggerated, some claiming them to be up to 2 to 3 feet in length. They will grow to 6 inches long and more, but should be harvested while young and tender. A gardener dispelled the rumors as to size of the pods while helping establish that it was grown in England.
I told them that more than fifteen years ago some of the seed of this plant had been sent me by a relative from India. It grew like a weed in the gardens of friends in Cornwall and Hertfordshire, to home I sent some, was soon voted a nuisance, and Raphanus was eradicated. – Hardwicke’s Science-gossip. Vol. 3. Dec. 1, 1867.
In 1858, a plant labeled, “Raphanus caudatus of Linnaeus”, was exhibited at the Edinburgh Botanical Garden and set off a wave of differing opinions as to its origins and history and whether or not the so-called rat-tailed radish was a completely different species from that classed by Linnaeus. Of special note, is the fact that whether it was the true rat-tailed variety or not, a species with seed pods much longer than that of the common radish was available during the career of Linnaeus who died in 1787.
The same writer who brought up Linnaeus claimed the Madras, or Edible Pod Radish was introduced into France by M. Courtois-Gerard. – Barry, Downing, Smith, Mead, Woodward, and Williams. The Horticulturist, and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste. 1853-1874.
One gardener wrote he was surprised to find, “an old Salad plant that I had not seen for years, namely, the rat-tailed Radish. It used to be grown in most gardens thirty years ago. Its long, rat-tail like pods when young taste much like Radish and are excellent for summer salad and a good substitute for Radish in hot weather when it is often difficult to have these latter in good condition”. – The Gardener’s Chronicle. Sat. March 30, 1907.
Several mid-Victorian receipt books inform the reader that string beans and radish pods are good pickled together. The longer pods of radish somewhat resemble green beans when picked young before they become tough and fibrous so they complement each other visually as well as in flavor.
A variety of vegetables, primarily peppers and cucumbers, were pickled after being stuffed with a mixture of various spices. The process was known as mangoes or “mangoing” the vegetables. Radish pods were sometimes included in the mixture packed into the vegetables.
The following receipts should show that edible seed pod radishes deserve a place on the 18th century dinner table.
TO PICKLE PEPPERS. Make a filling for the peppers of grated horseradish, mustard seed, small radish pods, chopped cabbage, and salt; cut the stem and the seed out of the pepper. Fill the peppers with this mixture and tie the stem part on tight; pack them closely in a stone jar, and cover them with cold vinegar. – La Fayette, Eugene. Professor La Fayette’s French Family Cook Book. 1885. London, Chicago, NY.
TO PICKLE RADISH PODS. Gather your Radish Pods when they are quite young, and put them in Salt and water all Night, then boil the Salt and Water they were laid in, and pour it upon your Pods, and cover your jars close to keep in the Steam, when it grows cold, make it boiling hot, and pour it on again, keep doing so till your Pods are quite Green, then put them on a Sieve to drain, and make a Pickle for them of White Wine Vinegar, with a little Mace, Ginger, Long Pepper, and Horse-radish, pour it boiling hot upon your Pods, when it is almost cold make your Vinegar twice as hot as before, and pour it upon them, and tie them down with a bladder [old way of sealing crocks or jars]. – Raffield, Elizabeth. The Experienced English House-keeper, for the Use and Ease of Ladies, House-keepers, Cooks, &c. 1769. Manchester. & Farley, John. The London Art of Cookery, and Housekeeper’s Assistant. 1787. London.
The preceding receipt was published in The Lady’s Magazine Or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, May 1775, London, which also contained a receipt for Piccalillo similar to John Farley’s.
While John Farley’s receipt for pickled radish pods was taken from Elizabeth Raffield’s book, he did offer an additional receipt for using radish pods.
INDIAN PICKLE, OR PICCALILLO. Take a cauliflower, a white cabbage, a few small cucumbers, radish pods, kidney-beans, and a little beet root, or any other thing commonly pickled. Put them into a hair sieve, and throw a large handful of salt over them. Set them in the sun, or before the fire for three days to dry. When all the water be run out of them, put them into a large earthen pot in layers, and between every layer put a handful of brown mustard seed. Then take as much ale allegar as you think will cover it, and to every four quarts of allegar, put an ounce of turmeric. Boil them together, and pour it hot upon your pickle. Let it stand twelve days upon the hearth, or till the pickles be all of a bright yellow colour, and most of the allegar sucked up. Then take two quarts of strong ale allegar, an ounce of mace, the same of white pepper, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, and the same of long pepper and nutmeg. Beat them all together and boil them ten minutes in the allegar. Then pour it upon your pickles, with four ounces of peeled garlic. Tie it close down.
PICKLED RADISH PODS. Make a pickle strong enough to bear an egg, with spring water and bay salt. Put your pods into it, and lay a thin board on them to keep them under the pickle. Let them stand ten days, then drain them in a sieve, and lay them on a cloth to dry. Take as much white wine vinegar as you think will cover them, boil it, and put your pods in a jar with ginger, mace, cloves, and Jamaica pepper. Pour your vinegar boiling-hot on them, cover them with a coarse cloth three or four times double, that the steam may come therough a little, and let them stand two days. Repeat this two or three times. When it is cold, put in a pint of mustard-seed, and some horse-radish, and cover them as directed. – Carter, Charles, Gentlewoman. The London and Country Cook; Or, Accomplished Housewife. 1749. London. & Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. 1784. London. & verbatim in Collingwood, Francis. The Universal Cook and City and Country Housekeeper. 1792. London.
An 1866 receipts for Indian Pickle and Universal Pickle are significant in that they say the cabbage and cauliflower will be ready for pickling at the same time, and that the other ingredients (radish-pods, French beans, gherkins, small onions, nasturtiums, capsicums, chilies &c.) are to be added as they are harvested. Later additions were to be wiped down in vinegar and added to the jar as they were picked. – Beeton, Isabella. How to Dine – Dinners and Dining. London.
Borella. The Court and Country Confectioner; Or, The Housekeeper’s Guide. 1770. London.
Graham, William. The Art of Making Wine from Fruits, Flowers, and Herbs. 1775. London.
Drake, Carl. Studies in Hemiptera. Dissertation. 1920. University of Ohio.
Martin, Sarah. The New Experienced English House-keeper. 1795. London.