Update

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Been a long silence on the blog, I know. Life has a way of happening, and sometimes all you can do is roll with the punches.

In this case, it began with a break-in at my stepmother’s house on the family ranch. While my siblings and I have been concerned about security for a while, it wasn’t our call. The ranch itself is in a family trust. My stepmother, at 95, has been in assisted living for several years, but would go down regularly with a friend to do things in the garden or just hang out. The friend would also go by almost daily to water and check up on things, and the guy who runs cattle on the property was also in and out. The combination gave the appearance of occupancy, and the house is at the end of a road with a locked gate and just visible from a nearby road. Not an ideal situation but not like it was where every passerby could see that the house was empty.

Unfortunately, the friend contracted shingles and had to spend almost six months recovering at her son’s in a different state. The cattle owner was also out of state for several weeks. At a guess, someone either happened to notice there was no one about or had been watching the place and jumped on the opportunity. So when I got the call that there had been a break-in, my reaction was a mix of “Oh, !#@*%^^!” and “I’m not really surprised, we’ve been very lucky it took this long.” Whoever-it-was heaved a large rock through the glass of one of the veranda doors, leaving an unholy mess. The shrieking alarm and quick arrival of the local police apparently sent the breaker-in off in disarray. However, when my husband and I went down to clean up and board the door with plywood, we found evidence that either the original parties or someone else had been back, loading up things that were salable. The house has a number of large windows that would be equally as vulnerable, none of which are visible from the road. There are no near neighbors and the closest folks are not what you would call sterling citizens.

We had two options – board the place up or find someone to live there. Stepmother didn’t want to go the rental route: “They’ll just trash the house.” Eldest granddaughter became the “someone.” We decided to make it formal, which meant an actual renter’s agreement. As any of you who have been through that sort of process know, it takes a bit of time to create such things to the satisfaction of all concerned. Then it was moving my stepmother’s belongings – actually more like condensing things – into part of the house. It’s a large house and there was plenty of room; better than having to pay for storage. Next we moved the granddaughter in.

Part of the rental agreement was that she would do the cleaning up outside – there had been a gardening service that evaporated in the wake of Covid. Plants were dying because the sprinkler system had leaks or programming issues, wisteria vines were trying to wrap up the house like Sleeping Beauty’s castle and there were a number of dead trees. Garden beds were overgrown, either with the plants that were supposed to be there or with weeds. Security issues – changing locks, security cameras, window locks, dowels for the sliding glass doors, etc. were also on the list. We had to deal with what we thought might be a roof leak but turned out to be condensation from the HVAC unit. Lots of minor maintenance stuff – all the sorts of things that happen when a house sits empty for a period of time.

In addition, I was/am still working about 10-12 hours a day at the clinic, where I am the only remaining RN where there used to be three. Hubby was dealing with ranch stuff and backhoe work, and granddaughter has a full-time job. And of course, it was the height of the season for watering my food garden and for harvesting/preserving. To add insult to injury, hubby got slammed with repeated equipment/vehicular issues, such as putting a new transmission in the backhoe and eviscerating the pickup to figure out why he kept finding oil in the radiator fluid.

Halloween arrived and we were just taking a deep breath, when I tested positive for Covid. Hubby followed suit three days later. We both had it in 2019, me before there were such things as Covid tests, so I based my diagnosis on symptoms. Tests were available when he came down with it, but they were still so new the health care profession didn’t know how much the timing of the test mattered. He tested negative but had classic symptoms, and in retrospect I realize that if we had waited a few days to test, the results would quite likely have been positive. So this year’s experience was a rerun, and recovery for both of us took several weeks (it was the longest stretch of time I’ve had off since 2019).

So that’s why the silence on the blog…

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Parsnip Recipes

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Like most root vegetables, parsnips are well-suited for roasting. A very thin drizzle of honey highlights the sweetness when roasted in butter. They combine well with carrots, squash, onions, apples and pears. You can also mash them like potatoes, or oven fry slices or sticks. They make good additions to meat stews and pot roasts – beef, pork, lamb and venison – although I don’t like them as well with chicken.

Parsnip Potato Gratin

  • 4 large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 medium onions, thinly sliced3 large parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese, divided
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream

Layer the potatoes, onions, parsnips and 3/4 cup cheese in a greased 13×9-in. baking dish; set aside. In a small saucepan, combine the flour, salt, pepper; gradually whisk in cream. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat; pour over vegetables. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover and bake at 375° for 30 minutes. Uncover; bake 20-25 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender and top is golden brown.

Parsnip Purée

  • 1 pound parsnips, well-scrubbed and thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt

Bring parsnips, garlic, cream, milk,and butter to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until parsnips are very soft, 10–15 minutes. Uncover and cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes; season with salt. Purée in a blender until smooth. Purée can be made 1 day ahead. Let cool; cover and chill. Reheat over medium-low, stirring often.

Parsnip Cake

This old Victorian recipe from William Woys Weaver is a good choice if you’re OK with experimenting. Note that it only takes a teacup of parsnips; it’s really more about the flour and yeast.

Boil your parsnips till perfectly soft; pass them through a colander. To one tea-cupful of mashed parsnip add one quart of warm milk, with a quarter of a pound of butter dissolved in it, a little salt and one gill (four ounces) of yeast, with flour enough to make a thick batter. Set it away to rise, which will require several hours, when light stir in as much flour as will make a dough, knead it well and let it rise again. Make it out in cakes about a quarter or half an inch thick, butter your tins or pans, put them on and set them to rise. As soon as they are light bake them in a very hot oven. When done wash over the tops with a little water, and send them to the table hot.

Parsnip Cake Recipe II

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 2 t. cinnamon
  • 2 t. ginger
  • 1/4 t. nutmeg
  • 4 eggs1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 2 cups squash or pumpkin (canned or cooked & pureed)
  • 4 cups shredded parsnips

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Blend the squash/pumpkin, eggs, sugars, oil, and vanilla together in a mixing bowl. Mix in the dry ingredients until blended. Fold in the parsnips. Pour batter into two greased 9”x9” pans and bake for 35 minutes at 350F or until an inserted toothpick is dry.

Irish Parsnip Soup

  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 lb parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 1 lb apples, peeled and chopped
  • 1 onions, chopped
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander seeds
  • 4 c chicken or vegetable stock
  • ½ c heavy cream, room temperature
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

In a medium soup pot, melt the butter. Add the parsnips, apples, and onions. Sauté over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until the vegetables have softened slightly. Add the curry powder, cumin and coriander. Mix well and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the spices are fragrant. Add the stock and bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the parsnips are very soft. Remove the soup from the heat and puree it with an immersion blender, or by transferring the mixture to the bowl of your stand blender. Add the cream to the pureed soup. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper, as needed. Return the soup to a low heat and warm the soup gently, without boiling, until heated through.

Squash and Parsnip Soup

  • 4 pounds honeynut or butternut squash, halved lengthwise (from 2 to 3 honeynuts or 1 large butternut)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for frying and drizzling
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound parsnips (4 to 5 medium), peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 2 pounds leeks (3 medium), white and light-green parts only, halved lengthwise and thoroughly washed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves, plus whole leaves for frying
  • 2 Granny Smith apples (1 pound), halved and cored
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • Toasted pepitas, toasted sesame seeds and poppy seeds, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Scoop seeds and pulp from squash; discard. (Or lightly coat seeds in oil, season with salt, and roast on a rimmed baking sheet until crisp and darkened slightly, about 20 minutes; let cool and reserve for garnish.) On a rimmed baking sheet, rub squash halves with 1 tablespoon oil and season with salt; turn cut-sides down. On another rimmed baking sheet, toss parsnips and leeks with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, season with salt, and sprinkle evenly with thyme and chopped sage; spread in a single layer. Roast 30 minutes. Add apples to sheet with squash, cut-sides up. Continue roasting until vegetables turn golden brown in places and are easily pierced with the tip of a knife, 15 to 20 minutes more. When cool enough to handle, scoop flesh from squash; transfer half to a blender with half of other vegetables and apples, 2 cups broth, and 1 cup water. Puree until smooth, adding more water as needed if too thick to self-level. Pour through a sieve into a pot. Repeat process with remaining vegetables, apples, broth, and 1 more cup water.Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, swirling occasionally, until fragrant and golden brown and dark-brown sediment particles form in bottom of pan, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir brown butter into soup; season with salt and pepper. Rewarm soup over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally and adding more water as necessary until it reaches desired consistency.Wipe pan clean. Heat 1/4 inch of oil over medium-high. When it shimmers, add a handful of sage leaves; cook, stirring a few times, until darkened slightly, 20 to 30 seconds. Transfer to paper towels, season with salt, and let stand until cool and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Fry more sage as desired. Serve soup topped with crisped sage, pepitas, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and a drizzle of oil.

Roasted Parsnips

  • 1/4 cup hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 2 pounds parsnips, peeled, halved crosswise, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick sticks
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pulse pumpkin seeds in a food processor until finely ground. Toss parsnips with oil and ground seeds in a large bowl until evenly coated; season with 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Arrange in a single layer on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets and tossing parsnips halfway through, until golden brown and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve immediately.

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Parsnips

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Growing parsnips is a much less common activity than growing something like tomatoes or corn. Native to Eurasia, parsnips have been a human food source for thousands of years. They were valuable enough that the Roman emperor Tiberius accepted them as tribute from the German tribes in the 1st century A.D. Parsnips, like beets, are loaded with plant sugars, and Europeans used them for sweetening before sugar beets became more widely available. French and British colonists brought them to America. Most varieties look like oversized, cream-colored carrots, although there are also round versions. The leaves can irritate the skin and cause discoloration that persists for months; wear long sleeves and gloves to weed around or harvest parsnips.

Growing Parsnips

Biennial, the plant forms seedheads like a carrot and can become invasive in the right conditions. Most gardeners grow them as annuals, planting in spring and starting to harvest in fall. They tolerate frost very well and become sweeter if stored in the ground through the winter. The seeds don’t store well and germination of older seed is very poor, which is another good reason to treat them as annuals. Just leave a few in the ground and harvest the seeds the next spring. It’s a good idea to stake the seed stalks, as they are tall and heavy. If you have to, you can try storing well-wrapped seeds in the freezer, but plant very thickly to offset the low germination rates. Like their carrot relatives, parsnips are slow to germinate – expect at least two or three weeks before seedlings appear. Make sure to keep them moist during germination. You want fertile soils for growing parsnips but excess nitrogen makes for top growth instead of root growth. Grow parsnips in loose soil so the roots can have 12 to 15 inches of room. It’s worth the effort to dig trenches and sift the soil to remove rocks, as the roots will fork or become misshapen in rocky soil. Sow them about ½ inch deep, two or three seeds to the inch, and then thin to four to six inches apart by clipping the tops rather than pulling out seedlings. Once the roots start to bulk up, hill them like potatoes to keep them from turning green. If given more space (say a foot or more), parsnip roots will grow very large, but I think the smaller ones taste better. Either harvest before the ground freezes or mulch them heavily to store through the winter. You can also store in a root cellar, packed in damp sand, sawdust or leaves.

Parsnip Nutrients

The parsnip is loaded with minerals such as calcium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc and especially potassium. High in fiber, they also contain a number of vitamins, especially folate, which is so important in preventing several kinds of birth defects. All of these goodies are most heavily concentrated just under the skin, so wash them but don’t peel.

Parsnip Varieties

Sorting out the history and development of heirloom parsnip varieties is complicated because the same term was used for both carrots and parsnips way back when. In addition, the original carrots were not orange but yellow-beige. It was not until 1393 that an herbal first made a clear distinction between the two vegetables. In addition, parsnips are biennial plants and insect-pollinated, so keeping distinct varieties going took a lot more effort than with something like self-pollinating annual beans or tomatoes. Three distinct types were in cultivation by the middle of the nineteenth century. The coquaine was a long, smooth parsnip grown primarily in France, although it was developed in Holland. The noisette Lisbonaise is of French origin, and is a short, rounded version that is reminiscent of a turnip. William Woys Weaver mentions another French variety called the Siam parsnip, which was yellow-rooted – I can’t find any other information on it.

  • All-American – this long tapered variety is high in sugar and stores well. Creamy white and fine-textured, it is a high yielding variety.
  • Harris Model – another long slim version, it has no side roots.
  • Hollow Crown – developed in the early 1800s. This one is generally considered the best all-around variety.
  • Kral Russian – this has small, round beet-shaped roots, which makes it a good choice for shallow soils.
  • Guernsey Half Long – Introduced prior to 1850 (Weaver says 1826), this one is considered to have very good flavor. It is not as long as other varieties, so can be grown in more shallow soils.
  • The Student – created in England by crossing a wild parsnip with a garden variety. Professor Buckman of the Royal Agriculture College at Cirencester, England, gets the credit for this one. He gathered wild seed from the Cotswolds in 1847 and made selections of resulting crops through 1859, when The Student was released commercially. It is a consistent producer and stores well. It’s also well-suited for heavy soils.
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