There’s never an “okay” radish season. It seems that each year is either a bumper crop of perfectly bulbous spicy delicacies, or a complete bust of bolted, measly, woody tap-roots.
But even in the worst years, when late frosts kills the earliest radish seedlings and early heat waves force the surviving plants to bolt, there’s still hope for a radish crop. It just won’t be the roots. Instead, one can harvest the seed pods – or siliques.
Most gardeners have never seen a radish seed pod. Radish bulbs are pulled while they’re still tender…long before the plant has a chance to flower and go to seed. Alternately, during bad years – when a bulb doesn’t form due to weather patterns – most gardeners pull up the failed crop as soon as all hope is lost in order to make room for a different early summer crop.
But radish flowers and seed pods are a reward for those who leave a few plants in the ground long enough to go to seed. It only takes a couple of extra weeks for the radish plant to shoot up and form beautiful stems of white or lavender edible flowers, followed by inch-long pointed seed pods. These pods taste just like the radish roots that spawn them, and can be sprinkled raw into salads or on top of soups. In fact there is at least one radish variety, the “rattail radish,” that is grown around the globe solely for its long, tasty seed pods.
We always let a few radish plants go to seed. But only a couple. Each plant will yield dozens of seed pods. While we use most of them fresh, we also reserve some for pickling. Their heat can be tempered with a salty sweet brine, and are terrific when used in place of capers in most recipes. Pickling the pods is easy…all that’s needed are small canning jars and lids, and a pot large enough to submerge the jars for a boiling 10 minute water bath.
Pickling recipes are always hard to quantify, since one never knows how much bounty one will have to can. So we usually pickle “by the jar.” Which means we sterilize as many jars as we think we have harvest to fill, pack them with the produce, pour the boiling brine over the top, and finally process the jars in a water bath.
Before you start any pickling, begin heating your water bath. (It takes a while to get a water bath boiling, so you want this stated early.) Simply fill a large stock pot, or canning pot with water and place over high heat. (This is probably the cheapest water bath kit we’ve found, and it works just fine. We often just use a regular heavy pot though.)
For this year’s harvest of radish seed pods, we thoroughly washed all of the seed pods, which filled up three small pint jars. Before packing in the pods, we inserted three sprigs of Lemon Thyme into the bottom of the jar. (A bay leaf or other woody herb would also work.)
Our brine consisted of 50% water, 50% white vinegar. Then one tablespoon of salt and one teaspoon of sugar per pint jar. It’s easy to measure how much brine you’ll need. Simply take an empty jar of the size you’re using, and measure your liquids in that. If you have three jars of radish pods waiting to be filled with brine, simply combine 1.5 jars of water and 1.5 jars of vinegar in a sauce pan with three tablespoons salt and three teaspoons of sugar. Then heat to a boil, and pour into radish pod-filled jars. (You’re guaranteed to have enough brine, plus a little extra in case you spill.)
Place the lids on the jars securely, and gently lower jars into the boiling water bath with tongs. The jars should be complete submerged in the boiling water. Allow to boil for 10 minutes, then remove with tongs and allow to cool.