As every veteran gardener knows, not all vegetables taste best (or are even edible!) when allowed to grow the way they want to. For example, bolting (unrestrained flowering) ruins the taste of many green leafy plants, while rhubarb leaves are poisonous at the best of times — and even the stalks are downright unpalatable without an infusion of massive amounts of sugar.
Blanching and Forcing Plants
Some garden plants can be made to taste better through processes called blanching and forcing. Both of which involve growing plants either with insufficient light or entirely in the dark.
Celery and curly endive, for example, becomes more tender and sweeter-tasting if most of the plant is grown in darkness for a period of 10 days or so. This process is called blanching, and results in leaves and stalks that are pale, yellow, and especially tender.
The easiest way to blanch celery is to wrap the bottom of the plant with newspaper or a paper bag. Here’s a YouTube video below that will take you through the exact steps to blanch celery.
Forcing generally takes place in complete darkness. Plants like seakale, Belgian endive, and especially rhubarb are all traditional candidates for forcing. Growing the plants this way produces especially tender shoots and stalks with much better flavor than unforced specimens. Rhubarb is also a great vegetable to force indoors.
Here’s a great video on how to force rhubarb.
Both forcing and blanching can be done outdoors simply by placing lightproof containers over the plants. If this is done in the winter, line them with straw or some other organic material to insulate them and keep them warm. To blanch celery, leave the tops of the plants exposed to light.
Want to learn more about blanching and forcing vegetables for better flavor?
See these resources:
Grow Your Own Rhubarb from Oregon State University Extension. There’s a section in this PDF on Forcing Rhubarb Indoors.
Growing Guide: Celery from Cornell University. This guide covers when to blanch celery.