Author of The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves and The Joy of Pickling, Linda Ziedrich likes to cook with every sort of food she can grow in Scio, Oregon.

A new use for fennel

Candied vegetables are a medieval treat

January 7, 2010

Four consecutive days of below-freezing temperatures recently put an end to the remains of my vegetable garden.

As in many years past, I was late in digging carrots and setting up plastic tents over the greens (which might actually have survived if I’d included an electric heater, set on high). After three days of bitter cold, I dug up the carrot bed, in frozen chunks six inches deep, and set the blocks in the garage to thaw.

I also dug up two enormous bulbs of Florence fennel, the kind sold in stores as anise (which it isn’t) or finocchio (Italian for “fennel”). The bulbs were frozen through.

I set the fennel in a big bowl on the kitchen counter for a day and a half, until the bulbs had thawed enough to handle. Then I cut away the outer layers, which had browned a bit.

Most of the rest became, with the addition of onion, potato, chicken stock, and sour cream, a big pot of puréed fennel soup. Delicious! It was the best thing I’d ever made with fennel — until two days later.

candied fennel cubes
Candied fennel cores.

I had saved the fennel cores. These were hard, solid, and white, like cabbage cores. The cores of Florence fennel are included in many Italian recipes, although they take longer to soften than the outer layers; I could certainly have cooked them in the soup.

But I had been reading Tim Richardson’s Sweets a wonderfully entertaining yet scholarly history of candy. Richardson had made me think how medieval my book The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves is.

All those fruit pastes and syrups started with recipes the Arabs developed, or borrowed from the Persians. These treats became popular throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. My book even includes some recipes for crystallized fruits, which are just preserves with the syrup drained off. To a large extent, The Joy of Jams is about medieval confectionery.

But I’d left out candied vegetables. “All kinds of roots and stalks were being candied in England by the sixteenth century,” writes Richardson. They included parsley roots, angelica stalks, lettuce stalks, and stranger foods like sea holly, borage, and bugloss. They also included fennel roots.

My fennel had tough, rough, dirty roots, and I didn’t want to risk wasting my time on them. But the cores seemed to hold some promise. So I made a small batch of Candied Fennel Cores.

The finished candies ranged in color from pale gold to amber. They were firm but not tough, and had a mild but appealing fennel flavor. If you wanted to intensify the flavor, you could add a few fennel seeds to the syrup.

I thought about including the candied fennel cubes on a Christmas dessert platter, alongside my candied Asian pears, or in a Christmas pudding, but I didn’t hide them away fast enough. They got eaten almost immediately. I must admit that I got my share.

Culinate editor’s note: This post also appeared on Linda Ziedrich’s blog, A Gardener's Table.

Related recipe: Candied Fennel Cores

There are 4 comments on this item
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1. by giovannaz on Jan 7, 2010 at 4:31 PM PST

I can’t wait to try these. Candied fennel...genius!

2. by Deb on Jan 8, 2010 at 12:34 AM PST

This sounds interesting. Hopefully this year my fennel will bulb so I can try it.

My hubby will want to know, will a handful of this equal one serving of vegetable? ;>

Linda, you just might need to write another book featuring unusual uses for vegetables.

3. by Swede on Jan 24, 2010 at 10:36 AM PST

This makes for a wonderful surprise on top of ice cream, and inside other delicious, baked, goods. Thanks for the article!

4. by Zeke on Feb 21, 2010 at 4:29 PM PST

Thats sounds amazing. I’m going out and getting some fennel next week to try this!

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