Don't Forget the Parsnips

Last post I talked about the excitement of rediscovering some forgotten (and somehow alive) scallions. In a changing world where our farmers constantly fear any loss despite their best efforts, it’s a relief to be reminded that sometimes - even, possibly, more-often-than-not - Mother Nature finds a way to survive. And this is why, on the farm and in the kitchen, nothing quite compares to the once-forgotten rediscovered and transformed.

The crew also found parsnips this spring. A strange new generation, the sprouted seedlings of their ancestors, drown like so much else last fall1. Tough and unplentiful they immediately became “seconds” and were gifted to us. A new produce puzzle to solve. How to transform this fibrous bushel into food enough for thirty or more?

Too sparse to make for a substantial course for any more than four or five people (and perhaps too woody to even bother trying), we opted to puree them. This would allow us to extract as much of the grassy, nutty, sweetness as the old gnarled roots had retained while maximizing this rich flavor boon across plates. So into the pressure cooker went the tangled parsnips without so much as a Mandrake’s cry.

And cook them we did. To oblivion. Until we were sure that any remaining toughness, bred from a winter of subterranean sub-zero survival, would never break down further. In the pressure cooker this was all of 20 minutes; on the stove it might have been an hour or more. We moved the now falling apart parsnips to a Vitamix, blended, and strained. We now had our puree, four quarts or so from a couple pounds of roots.

Earlier in the week Ian had taught a class in which he made a savory asparagus flan, the asparagus cooked and blended with some of it’s cooking water was mixed directly into the custard. This idea of vegetable flan floating in our heads paired with the newly pureed parsnips made for an (at the time) obvious decision. In fact, the natural sweetness in cooked parsnips might even be used for a dessert

And that’s what we served three days later at our Farm to Table Dinner. The flan, a rich and creamy final course beneath a maple reduction and candied spruce tips. As we tasted (the dinner itself often being the first time we’re able to try a completed dish), Ian noticed that the parsnips lent a sweet and buttery, almost toasted, flavor to the flan. Like popcorn. A few days later, for another dinner, we’d lean in, serving the flan beneath a dark caramel and puffed rice: caramel corn in the form of a parsnip flan. Only here. 

This produce and these dishes are all a product of the transitional nature of this time. Reminders that Spring on the farm, as Ian likes to say, finds us straddling seasons, one foot excitedly in summer soils, and the other squarely back in the high tunnels and deep run roots of February. We’re pulled forward, desperate for sunshine, summer, juicy tomatoes and melons, and abundant squash. And yet, at the same time, discoveries of hibernating parsnips and scallions ask us to look back, gratefully, at where we’ve come from, and remind us of the fleetingness of any season here on the farm.

Of course, as  both the scallions and parsnips were discovered a couple of weeks ago when I began these posts, we’re now squarely transitioned, and beginning to enjoy the abundance and intensity of summer. But, like scallions and parsnips, blog posts are better late (and unexpectedly) than never.

1 Parsnips are persnickety, growing in moderate climes (what used to be the norm here in Jersey and across northern Europe and Eurasia). Like other crops, they didn’t take well to the extreme wet of last season, which (precipitation-wise) resembled more the wet tropics than the once habitable Garden State. Incidentally, April, our Indian chef while preparing seasonal menus earlier this winter discovered that the parsnip doesn’t have a name in any Indian language, it’s dry-ish loving tendencies meaning the vegetable never took root in Indian soils or its cuisine. The opportunity being available, she dubbed it “Gora Gajar,” or literally, “White Carrot.”

Karl WagnerComment