Remembrance of produce past, part 2

My grandmother taught me to eat radishes. Or, I should say, I learned the habit from her; I don’t think she had any grand plan to indoctrinate me. She served radishes and scallions with breakfast, accompanied by individual dishes of salt for dipping. My cousin and I, aged about five, theorized implausibly about why the salt improved the flavor of the radish. We could agree only that without salt, the radish tasted impossibly harsh; with it, like heaven. (I may not have been a typical five year old.)

I have met few people since — all right, no one — who can match my love of radishes. It stems probably from the combination of a country upbringing and an addictive streak that demands excitement and strong flavors. To eat them for breakfast, as I still sometimes do, strikes me as so impossibly old-fashioned that it isn’t even country anymore but rather a bizarre twenty-first century transplant from the German-speaking rural Pennsylvania of 1925.

Saturday I bought the season’s first radishes at the market along with a bunch of watercress, another treat the Pennsylvania Dutch side of my family enjoyed in springs long past. Lacking any direct experience with that tradition, I made this sandwich for lunch, and lacking any desperately pressing work, I did the very German thing and drank a dark beer with my radishes. After all, I needed something to toast my ancestors.

Radish and watercress sandwich

  • 2 slices chewy, hearty whole-grain bread, preferably homemade
  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 2–3 large radishes, sliced thinly
  • several sprigs watercress
  • salt

Butter the bread. Cover one slice of bread with half the radish slices and sprinkle with salt. Add the remaining radishes and sprinke with salt again. Top with the watercress and the second slice of buttered bread. Serve with a bock or porter.

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