NESTLED IN THE EARTH, ROOTS AND BULBS are the most humble of vegetables. They tend to be simple and unassuming. Some of them are better known for their ugliness than their beauty. And most people are unaware of the foliage from many of these rough gems until they actually grow them.
Yet root vegetables are satisfying. Comforting. They are a mother’s hug rather than a lover’s passionate embrace. Our reactions to them are less dramatic, yet oftentimes much deeper. They warm our souls and make us feel everything will be right in the world.
As photographers, we’ve stepped out into a farmer’s sea of green leaves and found that burrowed beneath them was a trove of sweet potatoes. We watched and photographed his young kids chasing butterflies through leaves reaching up to their waists. Little did they know that a bounty of Thanksgiving treasure lay hidden under their toes.
From our own garden, several roots and bulbs tend to overfill our pantry seasonally. We adore fennel bulbs, but after the first season they started sprouting up in overabundance all over the garden. (Fortunately the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars love them, so we’ve benefited from an increase in the local butterfly population.) And hidden beneath their leaves, our beets will quietly grow to monstrous proportions if we don’t keep vigilant watch. One particular beet, which we fondly named Henry, grew to nearly ten pounds before we finally pulled him up.
But even in their overgrown state, these hearty vegetables can still be salvaged. Beets are wonderful when prepared in the right fashion. Don’t attempt to whittle them down and roast the chunks for a delicate beet salad. Instead, slice them thin and bake them into chips for an addictive snack.
These wonderful roots and bulbs, which nourish and comfort us, seem to gracefully handle our callous neglect. Yet despite such durability, we cannot let ourselves forget how good they can be when handled with the joy and care so many of our other fruits and vegetables get. The sweet creaminess of a freshly picked fingerling potato or the brilliant flavor of a finely shaved fennel bulb in its plump prime—these are glorious tastes to experience.