Early-Summer Aioli Platter

Just as the tomatoes and peppers are timidly stretching their rootlets into the (finally!) warming soil of the main vegetable garden, we’re filling baskets with produce from the raised beds. Every mealtime provokes a variant of the same question: What shall we do with all the cauliflower/peas/artichokes /scallions/turnips?

On a warm day, my choice is often an aioli platter. Aioli is the finest way to celebrate the garlic harvest, which also happens about this time. At the moment, our garlic stalks are just starting to bend; we’ll probably harvest in a day or two. Fortunately, the garlic we grow keeps well for more than a year, so last week I twisted a bulb from one of the last of 2010’s braids hanging from the kitchen wall and started mashing a few cloves for aioli.

Aioli is the Provençal word for an emulsion of olive oil, egg yolk, salt, and garlic. Common also in Catalonia and elsewhere in eastern Spain, where it’s known as allioli, this sauce is almost certainly the original mayonnaise (whose name comes from Mahón, Menorca). Aioli goes well with many foods, but we usually have it with boiled or steamed vegetables and hard-boiled eggs.

To make aioli, you must mash the garlic thoroughly; fresh garlic is preferred for its ease of mashing as well as for its flavor. I smack three or four cloves with the side of a chef’s knife, peel the cloves, and then either smack them again and mince them or else pound them in a mortar. I combine the garlic with about 1/4 teaspoon salt and an egg yolk—or, if I’m feeling lazy, a whole egg. Then I get out the olive oil. I use extra-virgin, but not the best; I prefer the flavor of aioli made with relatively bland oil. Or, for a very different and even more delicious taste, I substitute roasted hazelnut oil.

I have often sat on the floor with a small bowl between my bare feet and beaten in the oil with a whisk, drop by drop, but if I start with a whole egg or two yolks I can use a hand blender, running it on high speed while pouring in the oil, about 1 cup. I stop blending when the aioli is very thick. This happens in less than a minute with the hand blender, and perhaps 10 minutes with a whisk.

If I beat in a little prepared mustard and lemon juice, I have mayonnaise. But usually I prefer plain aioli.

I chill the aioli while cooking the vegetables and eggs. Last week I steamed artichokes, cauliflower, potatoes, and snow peas. The artichokes went in one pan, with about an inch of water, for an hour. I put the cauliflower, broken into florets, on top of the artichokes for the last 10 minutes of cooking. In another saucepan, I simmered small new potatoes, with salt and about 1/2 inch water, for 20 minutes; I added snow peas on top of the potatoes for the last 4 minutes. I boiled eggs in a third saucepan, in this way: I covered the eggs with cold water, put the lid on the pan, brought the water to a boil, and then turned off the heat. The eggs were ready in 12 minutes. I rinsed them in cold running water. Usually I’d peel them in the kitchen, but on this lazy day we did the peeling at the table.

I don’t chill the cooked vegetables or boiled eggs for aioli. They are best when still slightly warm.

The last, nearly essential ingredient of an aioli platter is bread. It can be brown or white, toasted or not. For me, aioli and good bread alone can make a satisfying meal.

Last week’s aioli platter was a fine one, but my mouth is watering now for the one that’s coming soon, just after we pull his year’s fresh, juicy garlic from its bed.

Putting Up Pod Peas

I could have sworn that the only variety of pea I planted this year was English—the kind you shell before eating—but instead we’ve found ourselves struggling to eat our way through a big, continuous crop of flat-podded snow peas. Although I’ll probably freeze some, I’ve found that peas in their pods, like green beans, are best preserved by pickling. So the other day I pickled some snow peas just as I often do snap peas (the kind with rounded but still edible pods), with white wine vinegar and tarragon in a quart jar that I’ve stored in the refrigerator. Today I may stand some peas in pint jars and process the pickled peas for pantry storage in the same way I do dilly beans.

You can vary the seasonings in this recipe, of course. If you shy away from the licorice-like flavor of tarragon, try thyme. Use black, green, or pink peppercorns instead of chiles, or try some mace or nutmeg. And instead of wine vinegar use cider vinegar, if you don’t mind its slight golden hue.

Once you open a jar of these sweet, tart, crisp pea pods, expect them to disappear in a wink.

Pickled Snow Peas

1  1/4 cups white wine vinegar
1 1/4 cups water
1 tablespoon pickling salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 pound snow (or snap) peas, stemmed and strung
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 or 2 small dried chiles, slit lengthwise
1 or 2 sprigs of fresh tarragon

In a saucepan, bring to a boil the vinegar, water, salt and sugar, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Let the liquid cool.

Pack the peas into a quart jar along with the garlic, the hot pepper or two, and the tarragon. Cover the peas with the cooled liquid, and close the jar with a plastic cap.

Store the jar in the refrigerator for at least two weeks before eating the peas. Chilled, they will keep for months.

Frozen Blueberries Love Fresh Rhubarb

In jams, pies, cobblers, and other sweet treats, rhubarb routinely gets paired with strawberries, for good reasons: Rhubarb and strawberries tend to reach the peak of their seasons together, and strawberries disguise the often lackluster color of rhubarb (although all-green rhubarb can be attractive on its own; see my recipe for Green Rhubarb Jam).

But in a spring as cool the one we’re experiencing in the Pacific Northwest now, local strawberries lag behind the rhubarb. There’s hardly a spot of red in the berry patches yet, and nobody wants to substitute hard, green-centered strawberries from California for sweet, tender red fruits from the garden or farm stand. This is a good time, though, to clean out the freezer, to make room for the abundance that will come (it will, really). And amid the pork chops and pesto may lurk bags and bags of last year’s fruit. My friend Sally hauls all out all her frozen fruit this time of year to make a batch of mixed-fruit wine. I make jam.

I decided to make jam from the last of last summer’s blueberries combined with the first of this year’s rhubarb. The pairing worked: The rhubarb took on the deep-blue color of the berries, lent an interesting texture, and balanced the berries’ high pectin content so I could use minimal sugar and yet avoid a tough gel. To eliminate the unpleasant fibrousness of cooked blueberries, I first heated the berries separately and then pressed them through a food mill. The result is a lusciously soft, dark jam that seems the essence of blueberry until you notice the tart yet subtle background note of rhubarb.

Supposing no blueberries turn up in your freezer, wait a few weeks. With adequate watering, your rhubarb will still be going strong when the first blueberries ripen. Then you can mix the two deliciously in jam—or in a pie, a tart. a crisp, or a cobbler.

Blueberry-Rhubarb Jam

1 1/2 pounds blueberries
1 pound trimmed rhubarb (leaves and tough bases cut off), cut into small pieces
3 1/3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

If the berries are frozen, let them thaw.

In a broad, heavy-bottomed pan, simmer the blueberries, covered, for about 5 minutes. Press them though the fine disk of a food mill.

Combine the berry purée in the pan with the rhubarb, sugar, and lemon juice. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat to medium-high, and boil the mixture, while still stirring frequently, until the rhubarb breaks down and a bit of the jam mounds in a chilled bowl, or until the temperature of the mixture reaches 221 degrees F. This should take no more than 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Skim the foam from the jam, and ladle the jam into sterilized half-pint mason jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Close the jars, and process them for 5 minutes in a boiling-water bath.

Remove the jars to a rack or pad, and let them stand undisturbed for 24 hours, after which time the jam should be well set. Store the jars in a cool, dry, dark place.

Makes about 6 half-pints

My First Dandelion Wine

The last day of March dawned clear and breezy, and the grass all around was spotted yellow. The day was perfect for picking dandelions.

Ever since I was twelve years old, when I read Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, I’d thought about making the mysterious brew. Dandelions barely smell, to my nose, and what aroma they have seems more grassy than floral. The flower petals fortunately lack the bitterness of the rest of the plant, but they also lack much flavor at all. Yet apparently dandelion wine was once quite popular, at least among British and North American writers on country life in the early to mid-twentieth century.

Dandelion wine—“the words were summer on the tongue,” Bradbury says. But what does the stuff taste like? One writer says sherry; another says the wine resembles whiskey, especially if you include the green parts of the flower and age the wine well. A North Dakota everything-but-grape winery says its dandelion wine is like “a cross between a light chardonnay and corn on the cob.” I could order the wine from North Dakota, but I wouldn’t know how it was made. I needed to make my own from a traditional recipe to know how dandelion wine ought to taste.

Often I’d been inspired to make dandelion wine too late in the year, when the yellow flowers spotting the grass weren’t dandelions at all but their less edible look-alikes, cat’s ear and sow thistle. One year my husband and I started picking those flowers and stopped only when our small daughter pointed out the leaves. Dandelion leaves really do look like dents de lion, or as least as you might imagine lion’s teeth to look, if lions had green teeth. And the leaves aren’t the least bit prickly or furry; they’re smooth and thin, and they look good to eat–as they are, if you like very bitter greens. In late March, though, I didn’t need to check the foliage; all the yellow flowers in the orchard and vegetable garden were dandelions.

I harvested the flowers as instructed by several old books: With one hand, snap off a head. With the other hand, pinch off the bracts along with any remains of the stem, which will be oozing bitter white sap, and as much of the base of the flower and the green calyx as come away easily. Drop the rest into a bucket. With the biggest flowers, I was sometimes able to pull away all the petals in one pinch and leave the rest of the flower behind.

Before I could pick the flower, though, I’d often have to pick off a bug. A spotted cucumber beetle, looking like a slightly elongated lady bug spotted black on yellow or yellow-green instead of red, rested on every third to fourth dandelion. Gluttons for bitterness, the beetles were enjoying dandelions as a starter course while waiting to feast on my cucumbers, melons, squash, and beans come summer. I pinched each beetle that didn’t get away—fortunately, they’re slow in cool weather–and wiped my fingers on the damp grass to avoid adding bitter beetle juice to my brew.

Despite the extra time devoted to pest control, in an hour and a half I’d harvested a gallon of dandelion blossoms. In the kitchen, I boiled a gallon of water in a stockpot and stirred in the flowers. Then I left the pot sitting on the kitchen counter for three days, and stirred the mixture once a day. It smelled mildly musty.

At this point old recipes vary somewhat. Since dandelion flowers aren’t sweet, the most important ingredient to add is sugar. Recipes often call for honey, Demerara sugar, malt sugar, raisins, or some combination of these. Reluctant to risk wasting expensive bought sugar or my home-produced honey or raisins, I added three pounds of ordinary white sugar. “To improve the flavor” (admits Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Herbs), you next add citrus, usually ginger, and often another spice or two. I was wary of overpowering whatever flavor the dandelions might prove to possess, so I used the thinly peeled rind and the juice of just one orange and one lemon, plus an ounce of grated fresh ginger.

I stirred the mixture together, brought it to a boil, and let it boil gently for 20 minutes. Then I let it cool to lukewarm and poured it into a scalded food-grade plastic bucket. The old books say to set a piece of rye bread on top and spread yeast of an unspecified sort on top. Instead I stirred half an envelope of wine yeast into a quarter-cup of warm water and stirred the mixture into the bucket. I set a lid loosely on top and put the bucket in a warm closet.

Yesterday my husband sniffed the wine and assured me that fermentation was under way, so today I strained the bubbling liquid through a coarsely woven nylon jelly bag, poured the wine into a gallon glass jug, and plugged the jug with a waterlock. Squeezing the bag turned the liquid yellow, though the color may settle out along with the fine solids. I had about a pint left over after I filled the jug, so I put it into the fridge for later, but first I had a little taste. The new wine isn’t bitter or medicinal at all, but pleasantly sweet, citrusy, and a little gingery.

When the wine in the jug has finished fermenting, I’ll bottle it. After that, Euell Gibbons tells me in Stalking the Wild Asparagus, I mustn’t touch it until Christmas. Then I’ll tell you what I think of dandelion wine. Will it uphold the dandelion’s reputation as a diuretic, as revealed by its modern French name, pissenlit (“piss in the bed”)? Will it fortify my blood, as dandelions are also supposed to do? Maybe one taste will make me exclaim, like the boy in Bradbury’s book, “I’m a fire-eater! Whoosh!”

I’ll let you know what happens.

 

The Oregon Grape

Wild Fruit for a Tart and Tasty Jelly

In the woods one day, my friend Jocelyn saw me eat an Oregon grape, tried one herself, and screamed. I was unfazed; just after my daughter, not yet two years old, had eaten her first Oregon grape, she had pantomimed death throes.

If you were to taste one of these little not-grapes—and I urge you to try one—you too might guess that they were poisonous, for they are very tart and a little bitter. But they are rich in pectin and make a fine jelly. Nearly black in color, the jelly has a grape-like but spicier flavor.

In either its tall or short form (Mahonia aquifolium or M. nervosa), Oregon grape is an evergreen shrub with prickly, holly-like leaves and bright yellow blossoms. Though native only to the Pacific Northwest, from northern California to southern British Columbia, the plant is widely grown elsewhere for its beauty and its drought-resistance. I saw it growing in public beds all over Paris, often along with another Northwest native, red-flowering currant.

In summer, Mahonia’s yellow flowers turn to blue berries that hang on the plant for several weeks. The berries are ready to pick when they’re uniformly dark. For three half-pint jars of jelly, you’ll want to collect about three and a half pounds of berries. Just slide your fingers down each bunch, and the berries will fall into your basket.

It’s easy to extract the juice of Oregon grapes with a steam juicer. If you don’t have a steam juicer, simmer the berries, covered, with half their volume of water for fifteen minutes, mashing them after the first ten minutes. Drain the juice through a jelly bag—let the juice drip for several hours—and then boil it for ten minutes to reduce it a bit. From this point on, making jelly is quick and easy.

Oregon Grape Jelly

3 cups Oregon grape juice
2 ¼ cups sugar

Combine the juice and sugar in a wide, heavy-bottomed, nonreactive pan (that is, a pan with a stainless-steel or well-enameled interior surface). Place the pan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and then raise the heat to medium high. Boil the syrup, skimming occasionally, until it begins to jell. This will take only a few minutes. You can test for jelling by scooping a little of the syrup with a metal spoon and then tipping the spoon high over the pan. You’ll see the drops thicken and slow, and then two drops will run together. That’s the point at which you remove the pan from the heat.

Skim any remaining foam from the surface of the syrup. Immediately pour the syrup into three sterilized half-pint mason jars. Add the jar lids and rings, and process the jars in a boiling-water bath for five minutes.

Remove the jars from the water bath, and let them cool on a rack or pad. Leave them alone until the next day, when the jelly should be firm.

Gooseberries in Syrup

gooseberries, topping & tailing

Before you eat or cook a gooseberry, you must top and tail it–that is, pull off the stem and the shriveled, dry blossom. These are my first harvest of ‘Hinnomaki’, a Finnish variety. They’re not only prettier than my green gooseberries (‘Oregon Champion’, a nineteenth-century variety from Salem, Oregon); they’re also sweeter.

Because I’d never done it before, I decided to can the gooseberries in syrup. For a cup of fruit, I used 1/3 cup each sugar and water. That’s a heavy syrup, but not as heavy as recommended by the old preserving book I consulted. Using a blanching basket, I dipped the berries into boiling water for 30 seconds, following a modern, USDA recommendation, apparently intended to keep the berries from floating. I then drained the berries, rinsed them in cold water, and drained them again. Then I poured about a quarter-cup syrup into a half-pint jar, as the old manual instructed–again, to keep the berries from floating. I added the berries, poured the rest of the syrup over (leaving 1/2 inch headspace), and processed the jar in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes.

Despite my precautions, the gooseberries are floating in their syrup. They might not win a prize at the county fair, but they’re beautiful anyway. They should be delicious next winter, over ice cream, cheesecake, pound cake, or waffles.

June in a Jar

Alexandria strawberry

This year’s long, wet spring in western Oregon pleased my Alexandria strawberries, which I planted last year under the arching canes of an old climbing rose. The pale pink roses, white from a distance, are just beginning to bloom, and breathing in their fragrance while tasting the just-ripe berries made me dream of my jam pot.

Introduced by Park Seed in 1964, Alexandria is one of several seed-propagated varieties of Fragaria vesca, the European woodland or alpine strawberry. Although the fruits of Alexandria are bigger than those of other F. vesca cultivars, the longest of my berries measure less than an inch. The fruits ripen over a long period, so you have to plant a lot of starts if you want to collect enough berries for jam. For these reasons, many gardeners treat the Alexandria strawberry as an ornamental ground cover rather than a food source. But eating one of the perfectly ripe berries produces a shocking rush of flavor. However jaded you are from crunching gigantic green-picked strawberries from California, you will recognize Alexandria’s flavor as the essence of strawberry.

I collected a couple of handfuls of berries and then looked up at the rose bower. I hadn’t yet made rose preserves this year, and I’d missed the peak bloom of both the rugosas and the delicate pink wild roses. But I knew I could find roses enough to combine with the strawberries. The flowers overhead were too pale for a red jam, sadly. For better color and an equally delicious aroma, I collected some pink moss roses, pulling the blossoms away from each calyx with one hand and, with the other, clipping off each petal’s pale, slightly bitter base with the tiny scissors of my pocket knife.

Then I remembered the rhubarb stalks I’d harvested a few hours earlier. Rhubarb can be problematic for preservers and bakers because it is typically ambivalent about color. The varieties that are red inside and out tend to lack vigor, and all-green varieties are hard to find. Most rhubarb in home gardens has red or red-speckled  skin but green flesh, and even red rhubarb skin may lose much of its color in the wrong growing conditions. The color problem is one reason that rhubarb is so often combined with strawberries. The happy marriage of flavors is another reason; the tartness of the rhubarb complements the sweet perfume of the strawberries. But full-scented roses marry well with rhubarb and strawberry both, so why not a ménage-a trois? This I had to try.

Rhubarb–Rose–Alpine Strawberry Jam

1 pound rhubarb, cut crosswise ½ inch thick
3 ounces Alexandria strawberries (about ¾ cup)
2 ½ ounces fragrant unsprayed rose petals (about 1½ cups, well packed)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups sugar

In a bowl, gently mix the ingredients. Cover the bowl, and leave it at room temperature for about 8 hours, until the sugar has mostly dissolved.

Pour the mixture into a preserving pan, and set the pan over medium heat. Stir gently. When the sugar is completely dissolved, raise the heat to medium-high. Boil, stirring occasionally.
 
The mixture will thicken in just a few minutes as the rhubarb fibers separate. When the mixture has reached a jam-like consistency, remove the pan from the heat. Ladle the jam into jars, and close them. You should have about 3 cups.

You can process the jars in a boiling-water bath, if you like, for 5 minutes if you have sterilized them or 10 minutes if you haven’t.

To smell and to eat, this jam is fantastic. I have captured June in a jar.

Pickling Leek Tops

pickled leek scapesWhile happily munching pickled garlic scapes—budding flower stalks, that is—at the Portland restaurant Evoe, my daughter suggested I try pickling some scapes of the many leeks going to seed in my garden. I had never eaten leek tops before, and the garlic tops at Evoe were a little tough for my taste. Besides, the length and rigidity of either garlic or leek scapes would make them hard to pickle in small quantity; you’d need a very big jar, which you’d want to fill well to avoid wasting vinegar (a big jar full of erect scapes was sitting, in fact, on the restaurant counter). But I wondered: What if I blanched my scapes before pickling them? That might make them tender enough to suit my taste and limp enough to curl into a small jar. So here’s what I made the next day:

Quick-Pickled Leek Scapes

6 ounces leek scapes, clipped about 6 inches below the bud
1 garlic clove, sliced
½ teaspoon pink peppercorns, crushed
1 tarragon sprig
2/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 1/3 cups water
2 teaspoons pickling salt

Bring a wide pan of water to a boil, and blanch the scapes for 2 minutes. Rinse them immediately in cold water, and drain them well. Then curl them into a jar. Add the garlic, pink peppercorns, and tarragon.

Heat the vinegar, water, and salt just to a boil, and pour the liquid over the scapes. Once the jar has cooled, store it in the refrigerator. The scapes will be ready to eat within a day.

As you can see, I used a bulbous 1-liter Weck jar for this pickle, because even blanched the scapes were too stiff for a narrower container. The jar could have held twice as many scapes (if you want to pickle more, just increase the other ingredients accordingly). The texture of the scapes was just right, and I loved the licorice-like note of the tarragon, though it was a little too strong for my husband. Next time I might try black pepper and fresh dill instead.

I took care, by the way, to leave plenty of leeks to flower in the garden. While pickled scapes are a pretty garnish for the table, flowering leeks are more striking still, and you can save the seeds for planting next year.

Mixed Berry Jam, from the Freezer

mixed berry jam

Here in western Oregon, summer seems a long way off. The heavy soils that dominate the region are still too wet to plant, and my summer vegetable garden is pot-bound in the greenhouse. Strawberries are beginning to ripen, and I have even picked a few raspberries, but the 2010 preserving season has yet to begin.

Yesterday, however, I found in my freezer plenty of berries from last year to make a big batch of jam. So I decided to try combining red currants, raspberries, and strawberries in–

Mixed Berry Jam

2 pounds frozen red currants, thawed
2 pounds frozen red raspberries, thawed
2 pounds frozen strawberries, thawed
7 cups sugar

In a covered preserving pan over medium heat, bring the currants and raspberries to a simmer. Uncover the pan, and simmer the fruits about 5 minutes, until they are quite tender (if you use fresh fruit instead of frozen, the simmering will take a bit longer).

Purée the mixture through the fine screen of a food mill set over a large bowl. Briefly mash the strawberries with a potato masher (to break them into pieces, not to obliterate them), and add them to the fruit purée. Stir in the sugar.

Pour half the mixture into the preserving pan. Boil the mixture over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, skimming the foam, until the jam mounds in a chilled bowl. Ladle it into pint or half-pint jars, and close the jars. Cook the rest of the fruit mixture in the same way, and fill more jars with the jam. You should have about 5 pints total, with the perfume of raspberries, tartness of currants, and occasional smooth globs of pure strawberry.

Notes:

• The red currants in this jam provide abundant acid and pectin for a strong gel. I undercooked my jam a bit to keep the gel on the soft side.

• Unless your food-mill screen is finer than mine, some seeds will slip through, enough to add a little texture without making the jam unpleasantly seedy.

• Process the jars in a boiling-water bath as usual: 5 minutes if the jars are sterilized, 10 minutes if they’re not.

• You can cut this recipe in half and cook all the jam at once.

Sweet Milk and Sweet Parsnips

I first made parsnip soup many years ago, after listening with my then-small eldest child to Peggy Seeger sing, “What Did You Have for Your Supper?” on the record American Folk Songs for Children.* I didn’t read the song’s title in the record notes, though, and I heard the words as “What’ll you have for your supper?”

parsnip soup croppedWhat’ll you have for your supper,
Jimmy Randall, my son?
What’ll you have for your supper,
My own little one?
Sweet milk and sweet parsnips;
Mother make my bed soon,
Because I’m tired at the heart
And I want to lie down.

With each sweet Peggy’s voice soared to the top of the octave; Jimmy was pleading for sweet white comfort food that Mother and no other could provide. Or so I thought.

Little did I know that I was hearing a surviving fragment of “Lord Randall,” an Anglo-Scottish ballad about a man who may actually have lived, in the thirteenth century or thereabouts, until he was poisoned—by his sweetheart at dinner, according to most versions of the song. Typical versions say that she also poisons Randall’s dogs, who “swell up.” Feeling poorly after the meal, Randall goes home to his mother. The story is told through conversation between mother and son as poor Randall heads for his deathbed. Fuller versions don’t mention milk or parsnips; usually he has eaten eels or other fish. And Mother is always less curious about the tainted food than she is about the distribution of Randall’s worldly goods.

The parsnip has been popular since Roman times, though it was probably thin and woody and suitable only for flavoring until about the time Lord Randall was getting sick on eels. Then gardeners developed it into a fleshy, aromatic root that at its best cooks up quite tender. The parsnip is still a trial for the gardener; with seeds slower to sprout even than those of most other umbellifers, the plant take months to grow to size while the gardener repeatedly weeds around the root. Then it should stay in the ground even longer, well mulched, until it is sweetened by frost. Finally it can be stored in a cellar or left in the ground, depending on your climate, until some cold night in winter or early spring when you’re craving something sweet, starchy, and soothing.

The modern English name parsnip may have been influenced by parsley, for a white-rooted cousin, and turnip, for an unrelated and fleshier root vegetable. The parsnip is even more like the carrot than like either of these, but sweeter and starchier, with little bitterness. People who describe the parsnip’s flavor as “nutty” are probably thinking of chestnuts.

Parsnips are good roasted, fried, puréed with apples or carrots or potatoes, diced in chicken pot pie, and flavored with curry powder or ginger. But when I heard Peggy’s song I knew just what I wanted to make with parsnips, and it’s what I most like to make with them today:

Parsnip Soup

Sauté some diced onion in butter. Add diced parsnips (don’t bother to peel them first). Add chicken stock, and cook the parsnips in the stock until they are tender. Add milk, cream, or half-and-half. Season with salt, white pepper, and grated nutmeg. Purée the soup in a blender, and reheat it if needed.

I don’t believe Jimmy Randall ever got sick on sweet milk and parsnips. It was his mother who fed him the soup, I’m sure, and he woke up the next morning feeling fit and lively. Even his dogs survived. At least that’s how I like to sing the song.

*Rounder Records 8001/8002/8003. Sung and played by Peggy and her brother, Mike Seeger, the 94 songs on this album are from the book American Folk Songs for Children, by their mother, Ruth Crawford Seeger. The book is still in print, and the album is now available on CD.