21 Aug 2014
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Hard-to-Find Vegetable Stirs Up Memories

Alison Norris remembers how her Grandmother used sorrel and taught her to cook

Hard-to-Find Vegetable Stirs Up Memories

Dunwoody’s vibrant gardening community offers those who like to dig in the dirt a chance to meet a host of interesting people, sometimes in places other than the garden.

I met one such person on a search to find a restaurant owner or chef who uses sorrel, a little-known vegetable in the spinach family that is not available in grocery stores and is rarely offered on restaurant menus.

That search led to Alison Norris, owner of in the Shops of Dunwoody Shopping Center.

Last weekend I stopped in Alison’s, which recently was voted "Best of Dunwoody - Restaurant Category" by its patrons, to ask Alison if she is familiar with sorrel or ever uses it in her recipes.

She wasn’t there that day, but we caught up a few days later on Facebook.

“ … Well, I haven’t thought or heard about it much for many years,” she wrote me. “But I do remember growing up in the South of England, listening to my Grandmother  instructing Mr. Pepper (our gardener) to plant  the sorrel in the garden in ‘nice neat’ rows next to the spinach.”

Alison told me more about how her Grandmother grew sorrel, Mr. Pepper and the path that led her to open Alison’s less than a year ago when I visited the restaurant this week to meet her in person.

The more she talked, the more she not only remembered but seemed to enjoy remembering.

Mr. Pepper just sort of appeared when there was work to do, Alison recalled. “He was a little chap who lived in the shed in the summer and in the stables in the winter.” Then he would disappear, probably to work on another farm, she mused.

The English like a nice cup of tea and the vegetables in their gardens in nice neat rows, Alison said with a chuckle. She then began mimicking the high voice of her Grandmother, Elizabeth Fildes, as she remembered her instructing Mr. Pepper on planting the sorrel beside the rows of spinach and asparagus.

“She always wanted to use (the sorrel) young and tender and would pick it frequently from May onwards,” Alison said.

“My first cooking lessons began in my Grandmother’s kitchen,” she continued. “She owned a hotel, which had a small intimate fine dining room.”

That was in the country near Canterbury. The dining room had wood paneling, an open fireplace, maybe 10 heavy oak tables and there were copper pots and pans and hunting horns hanging from the ceiling and walls, she said. “It was very cozy, and businessmen liked to eat there,” she remembered.

“My grandmother was quite an adventurous chef and dispelled the opinion that British people can’t cook!  She loved to prepare dishes using ingredients fresh from the garden.”

Sorrel picked as Alison’s Grandmother harvested hers has a tart lemony flavor. For adventurous gardeners and cooks like her grandmother, Alison cautions that you should only use the leaves. She says to remove the stalks and wash the leaves as you would wash spinach, several times. 

“If my memory serves me correctly,” she added, “my Grandmother also added sorrel to her rich brown sauce/gravy that she served with roast goose or duck.  She also used it as a puree with spinach for a base for poached eggs with or without Hollandaise sauce.”

Alison also says sorrel pairs especially well with fish and eggs. 

There are two dishes Alison said she used to serve with sorrel that were particularly delicious. One was poached salmon with a lemony sorrel sauce and the other was a gruyere and sorrel souffle. (See the recipes accompanying this article.)

Alison says she hasn’t cooked with sorrel for many years because it is hard to find in Dunwoody.

One place to buy sorrel locally is at the Dunwoody Green Market. The market is located in Dunwoody Village and is open on Wednesdays, 8 a.m. – noon, from April-November.

Sorrel is also winter hardy at our latitude and can be grown in Dunwoody vegetable gardens as a perennial.

It just needs good garden soil and a sunny spot. It can also be grown from seed, which is a good thing because nurseries rarely offer plants for sale.

The plant’s taste can vary because the leaves contain oxalic acid, a poison harmless in small quantities but dangerous in large quantities.

“Maybe I should give this little-used vegetable a comeback on my specials menu at Alison’s Restaurant,” Alison wrote to me.

It was obvious from our meeting that she has a lot of experience in preparing menus. She had a catering business in London and an Italian restaurant in Cumming.

Opening a restaurant in Dunwoody, where she is a resident, seemed like a logical next step.

What’s next for Alison’s Restaurant?

Don’t be surprised in the fall, when the season’s change and family vacations are over for the year, if sorrel appears on the menu … possibly with sea bass and grouper.

 

Interested in trying some sorrel recipies? .

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