American gardeners and cooks are talking a renewed interest in root vegetable that once were staples on the family table but have been practically forgotten in recent years.
The oft-maligned roots deserve closer scrutiny, for if properly prepared and cooked they can be delectable additions to the daily menu.
The parship, for example, a member of the carrot family, has long been a controversial vegetable: There are those who adore it and those who abhor it, although the flavor is sweet and nutty and the texture soft.
Parsnips were one of the most plentiful vegetables in the early Massachusetts Bay Colony, as a popular rhyme of the era indicates:
"For pottage and puddings, and custards and pies - Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies."
For a very long time, New Englanders considered parsnips to be poisonous until after they were frozen. Doubtless this was due to a pecularity in harvesting the vegetable. Because the root was embedded entirely underground it was very difficult to unearth. Futhermore, the desired flavor of the parsnip develops only after the first frost as cold weather changes the parsnip's starch to sugar.
Colonial recipes for the vegetable included plain buttered parsnips, parsnip cakes and fritters, as well as puddings and pies. They were also added to soups and stews, roasted with meats, scalloped and deep-fried.
Cook parsnips in salted boiling water to cover 20 to 40 minutes, depending on size and maturity. Skin, if not peeled, and serve whole, in pieces or mashed, with salt, pepper and butter. Parsnips may also be baked.
Turnips, related to the mustards and cabbages, were planted in Virgia as early as 1610 and both the flavorful root and its nourishing greens have remained great Southern favorites ever since. The roots have also been familiar and treasured foods in other parts of the country.
Of all the varieties, the most commonly eaten is the globular white root that generally has a purple top.
When cooked, the white flesh has a fairly strong flavor.
Small, tender turnips are usually sold in bunches are sold without tops. They should be smooth, round and firm. Smaller ones are more delicate in texture and flavor.
Young turnips may be peeled and sliced or grated and eaten raw an oil-vinegar or another dressing. To cook, wash, pare and leave small turnips whole. Larger ones should be peeled fairly deep and cut into slices or quarters. Sometimes they may be blanched in boiling water before cooking to remove some of the strong taste. Cook, covered, in a little lightly salted boiling water until tender, about 15 minutes. Serve as is, or mash and sesson with salt, pepper and butter.
Turnips can absorb a fair amount of butter or fat and therefore are often added to soups and stews and cooked with fatty meats. They go particularly well with lamb, pork, duck, goose and sausages.
Turnips are a fair source of vitamin C; their greens are sources of vitamins A and C and contain calcium, iron and riboflavin.
A yellow or white root vegetable that has the taste of a turnip but is sweeter and stronger is the rutabaga. Also known as Swede, Swedish turnip or yellow turnip, this cold-weather vegetable was introduced to our country from Northern Europe and became particularly popular in the Midwest. It is a member of the mustard family and closely related to a number of well-known vegetables, such as the cabbage, cauliflower and turnip.
Rutabages can be cooked as the turnip is, but they must be peeled beforehand. Cut in pieces or slices and cook in slightly salted, boiling water. Add a teaspoon of sugar for additional flavor.
Mashed or pureed rutabags, flavored with salt, pepper, butter and a little cream, are excellent. Some cooks cut the stronger rutabaga flavor by mixing them with mashed potato. Below are some traditional American root vegetable recipes. TURNIP PUFF (Serves 4) 3 cups mashed, cooked turnips 3 tablespoons butter or margarine 3 eggs, separated Salt, pepper to taste 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
Put turnips and butter in a bowl. Beat egg yolks until creamy and add to turnips. Season with salt and pepper. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into mixture. Turn into a greased shallow baking dish. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven until lightly browned, about 12 minutes. BAKED RUTAGAGA AND APPLES (Serves 4 to 6) 1 rutabaga, about 1 1/4 pounds Salt 3 tart apples, cored and sliced (unpeeled) 1/4 cup light brown sugar 2 tablespoons lemon juice 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
Wash and peel rutabaga. Cut into slices and cook in salted boiling water until almost tender, 10 minutes.Drain. Arrange rutabaga and apple slices in a greased shallow casserole in layers, sprinkling each layer with sugar and lemon juice. Dot top with butter. Bake, covered, in preheated 350-degree oven 30 minutes, or until rutabaga and apples are tender. PARSNIP CHOWDER (Serves 6) 1/2 cup diced salt pork 1 large onion, peeled and sliced 3 cups diced, peeled parsnips 3 cups diced, peeled potatoes 2 cups boiling water Salt, pepper to taste 1 quart milk 4 common crackers, crumbled (optional) 2 tablespoons butter or margarine 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Fry salt pork until crisp in a large kettle. Remove pork and reserve. Add onion to fat and saute until tender. Add parsnips, potatoes and water. Bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Lower heat and cook slowly, covered, about 30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add milk and leave on stove long enough to heat through. Thicken soup with optional crackers and add butter and parsley. Return pork to kettle.