SPRING PARSNIPS – a hard core lesson in letting go

An unlikely vegetable teaches me the fine art of letting go.

Sometimes you have to try something just to see how it comes out. Great cooks and gardeners are fearless, or to quote a gardener, “There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.”

This week Bob and I found ourselves with a couple of pounds of parsnips. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, but decided to give them a chance. So I went to my computer and found a recipe which looked promising:

Sweet and Gooey Parsnips

1 pound parsnips
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Scrape or peel the parsnips, then cut them into sticks about the size of your little finger. Dry well.

In a heavy skillet, melt the butter; then add the parsnips, shaking to coat. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Cover tightly and sauté on medium heat for about 5 to 10 minutes. The parsnips should be tender and gooey, and slightly caramelized. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I got right to work, peeling and chopping up the hard, little roots. I spent enough time with my pile of parsnips to begin seeing pictures in the horizontal lines. I superimposed the face of a farmer atop one craggy, dirt-stained root in an attempt to visualize the person who grew these pale, pithy wonders. All it needed was a tiny straw hat!

Meanwhile, farmer Jason of Edible Earthscapes came over and was enjoying some of his home brew on the back porch with Bob. As the parsnips simmered away in the pan, I walked outside and asked Jason “What do you do with parsnips?” Bob laughed because he had just asked Jason the same question.

Jason had told Bob that Fall parsnips were one of his top five favorite vegetables and that Spring parsnips with their winter-hardened root cores were only good for the compost pile. “Great,” I said, “I find this out now!” As I turned to go back inside the house, Bob was already making plans to plant parsnips for Fall harvest.

I checked on my pan of parsnips. The nutmeg complimented their flavor nicely, and some of the pieces had indeed turned sweet and gooey. Unfortunately, nearly all the gooey parsnip morsels were hiding an inedible, woody core. Unwilling to throw them on the compost pile just yet, I put them in the refrigerator.

The next day, I decided to turn those parsnips into soup. Soups are something I’m really good at and this would be a cream of chard/kale soup with pureed parsnips. I started re-heating the cooked greens and on a whim, added in some acorn squash I’d frozen last fall. I heated up the parsnips and pressed them through a sieve, leaving all the hard cores behind. Adding soy milk, I pureed all three vegetables and added a few spices.

Voila! I had made a big pot of something resembling Baby Food! Well, there’s no baby in our house and I don’t know anyone who would feed what I made to their child. My “soup” had bad color, consistency and flavor. Well, I could thin it down some, I though, reaching for some vegetable broth.

I was on the verge of chopping up some chives to add in when Bob walked into the kitchen. Seeing what I was up to he said, “Let it go – it’s enough already!” Putting the knife down, I picked up the pot of gooey green puree, walked outside and poured it over the compost pile.

Compost piles need to eat, too, throwing good energy after bad is never a good idea, and if you are afraid to make mistakes, you will never learn anything. Knowing when to let go is as important as knowing how to dive in. And I’ll probably be ready to give parsnips another go in the fall.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

Don't be shy - leave a comment!