After striking a dissonant chord with some readers over radishes, I thought back to a post last fall which rallied for roots. If one were particularly observant in its reading, one might have noticed a rather obvious but easy to forgive omission. The parsnip has been categorically ignored, frowned upon, shunned, dismissed, misplaced, forgotten, and disapproved of for the entirety of my life, and for the shallowest of reasons- they give me the creeps. I don’t really remember the circumstances surrounding my first parsnip sighting but I do know with horrific certainty that I diagnosed Pastinaca sativa as albino mutant carrots. They are ugly stubby things with an unforgivable color, the antithesis to life. A swash of images pass over me one more egregious than the last; stiffened bruised corpse fingers, chipped tea-stained teeth, maggots writhing within the cork confines of a kicked open decomposed log. I can practically smell the formaldehyde of a giant segmented and bloated earthworm or a geoduck jarred in captivity, just thinking of parsnips. I know I have a wild imagination and a serious problem too, which is why this particular genus-species has been long banished to the nether regions of my mind until now.
Fast friends with radishes, it is hard to believe there once was a time I snubbed them too. It has dawned on me that parsnips are the final frontier in vegetables, the one that has escaped my kitchen chop block. Only one thin memory of eating ghoulish white rounds in chicken soup exists, my spoon swiftly avoiding contact with the murky discs while I feebly drank some root infused broth instead. The remembrance is fuzzy and unformed, no doubt blunted by some much needed defensive forgetting and a smear of revulsion. I believe the flavor was slightly sweet, herbal and perfumed in a weird kind of way, but nothing so offensive to keep me from exploring the harmless root a little further.
Now approximately twelve years later, the vegetable which has yet to see the light of day and has almost completely composted into oblivion is coming out of the shadows. It is time to interject a little psychology and a smit of realism, after all what other foods are being impulsively annihilated due to my unchecked emotionality? Indeed the parsnip is a defenseless root and not a dead appendage- the parsnip is a defenseless root and not a dead appendage. And it is all too clear that my past association is preventing me from truly experiencing the vegetable for what it is, a brutish yellow white carrot with a wild carrot flavor. Simple as that.
With a little determination and mental processing, I am excited about my new exotic vegetal friend. First I found a recipe for Parsnip Ice cream, which then morphed into an idea for Parsnip Panna Cotta. Lastly with a grand flourish of creativity I decided that I should grate a whole slew and mix them into a gingerbread spiced cake. To my amazement I discovered that others have already danced where I dared to go. But since this is my own personal Goliath, I decided to forgo originality and bake the cake anyways. For as far as I am concerned- anyway I slice it, this experiment has been a success. You can never really lose with cake and now the garden of eating is that much wider.
Nip-n-Sap Bread- This is an Ode to Spring for the Vernal Equinox highlighting parsnips pulled fresh from the frozen ground (which V says makes them sweeter) and maple syrup freshly boiled from the sap. The intention of the bread is to support parsnip’s earthy flavor with the spelt and maple. It is sweet but not overly so, since that would only mask its true flavor. The name is cleverly made up by sweet V- this is for you!
3/4 C brown sugar
½ C butter at room temp.
1 tsp baking soda
½ C maple syrup
½ C buttermilk
2 C spelt flour
¾ tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
¼ tsp salt
2 C grated fresh parsnips
½ C chopped toasted walnuts and/or a few handfuls of plump raisins
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9” cake round. Beat butter and sugar on medium speed until creamy, add eggs and mix until incorporated. In a small bowl mix maple syrup and buttermilk together, stir baking soda into the wet mixture. Sift flour, spices, and salt together into a bowl. Pour half of the flour into the butter mixture and beat a few seconds. Pour about half of the wet ingredients in and mix some more. Repeat with the remaining dry and then wet ingredients. Lightly fold parsnips and walnuts into the batter and then pour into the prepared pan. Bake in the oven for about 55 minutes. Done when toothpick in the center comes out clean. Can be gussied up with cream cheese frosting or a brown butter orange frosting, but I think it quite nice with a thin coat of butter and maybe a small bowl of coffee ice cream on the side.