buried treasure

Living in Northern Wisconsin has it’s perks, to be sure. But it also means coming to terms with being a step or two behind most of the world. Fashion trends, for instance, typically don’t make their way up here until they are already on their way out in most places. Or, wait. Do they ever even make it up here? Not really sure on that. Likewise, when the spring barrage of cooking mags start pouring in with glorious photos of rhubarb and spring peas, I take it with a grain of salt. I’m lucky if I get my first pea harvest by the end of June.

I know to set my new throng of must-try seasonal recipes aside for at least another month or two. Still, my heart goes pitter-patter at the mere thought of fresh produce. On a whim I go out to check my most promising contender – the parsnip patch. I plant a few rows of parsnips every summer. Half of them I devour in the fall, and half I leave well mulched in the ground for a spring feast. Parsnips are good in the fall, but they’re even better after a winter underground. The frost converts some of their starch to sugar and gives them an unbeatable subtle sweetness.


I grab the yard stick on the way out the door. As I suspected, things do not look promising. My gnarly jewels are buried under thirty-six inches of hard snow pack. I desperately rack my brain for some of the benefits of living on Lake Superior. There must be some, I’m sure of it, but at the moment all I can focus on is my hidden treasure. Clearly this is going to require some human intervention. I strike hard with my shovel, keeping my eyes on the prize. It becomes immediately obvious that my plastic tool is no match for 3 feet of snow that has repeatedly thawed and frozen over the season.

Time for the big guns. I summon my husband Mark and his unwieldy beast of a snow blower. I doubt I’ll even have to plead. Mark is sort of a snow blowing nut. He must find it satisfying work. Halfway through the winter I discovered an amazing labyrinth of paths criss crossing the upper half of our property. I had no idea. When I confronted him about it, he burst out singing “Don’t Fence Me In” and claimed that a fella needs to roam. Did I mention we have long winters?

spring garden

We concur that the parsnips are indeed a noble cause and Mark fires up the beast. Of course the ground is still frozen solid underneath, but we’ve made headway at least. A few weeks of spring weather is all it will take for the parsnips to start poking their heads above ground. And you can bet that I’ll be out there muscling my way through to them with a pitch fork at the first sign of a thaw.

Luckily, in the meantime, I’ve got a few parsnips lingering in the crisper from our winter CSA share. I like to mix parsnips in with other root vegetables for roasting, and equally, I love a creamy potato-parsnip mashup, but my favorite way to prepare parsnips is to feature them head on in a simple parsnip pie. It really lets them shine in an easy, comfort food sort of way way.

parsnip pie

Brown Butter Parsnip Pie

1 9-inch unbaked pastry shell*
1 1/2  pounds (roughly) parsnips
2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon lightly crushed pecans
Salt, pepper, nutmeg

Peel and dice the parsnips. You want enough to fill the pie pan, so you can sort of eyeball or do a dry test run before you line the pie shell. Steam the parsnips until tender, about 10 minutes. While they steam, roll out the pie crust and line the pan. Brown the butter in a small sauce pan until it is nutty and fragrant, but not at all burnt. Mash the steamed parsnips with the butter and tahini and spoon the mixture into the pie shell. Leaving a few lumps of parsnips is a-okay. Fold over any edges of crust and sprinkle the top with salt, pepper and a dusting of nutmeg. Bake at 350ºF for 15 minutes. At this point, scatter the crushed pecans over the top and continue to bake for another 10 – 15 minutes,

* My standard note on the pie shell: after trying many recipes and methods, I’ve settled on Alice Waters’ pie dough in The Art of Simple Food as my standby. It is easy, straightforward, and has yet to let me down. But a frozen store bought shell would work just as well.

pie gone

5 Responses to “buried treasure”

  1. 1 Anne-Marie March 29, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    For the sake of your parsnips and my sanity, I sure hope spring arrives soon! I agree on Alice Waters’ pie crust recipe, it’s simply the best. (I love your pie pan.)

  2. 2 Ann March 30, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Thanks for reminding me Jill! I’ve still got leeks buried out under the snow. I wonder if they made it? With all this rain I won’t have to dig deep at all. Can’t believe I was skiing in warm sunshine yesterday. Spring comes frolicking in!

  3. 3 Ella Bella March 30, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Now you’ve got me hankering for parsnips. I usually cut into julienne strips along with carrots for a dish that’s aesthetically pleasing and delicious. Good luck on getting your buried treasure and have the happiest of Easters!

  4. 4 Pat Juett April 11, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    Hi Jill. Somehow missed this post as I was out of town. This reminds me that last year for the Easter party I made a maple-parsnip pie(ala pumpkin). It was so awful that I thought then “Never Again!” This recipe has revived my interest though and I think savory is the way to go. I wish I could try it but the voles ate all but 2 of our parsnips in early winter. We could tell that they were there because the foxes were sniffing them out..
    I am spending this blustery spring day looking at blogs and tutorials for using them as web pages. Is this WordPress? Any suggestions? send em’ my way. Desperately need to ramp up my marketing.
    Hope you are enjoying the added moisture.

    • 5 GarlicPig April 11, 2013 at 8:15 pm

      I remember that parsnip pie – but I don’t recall it being so disastrous! And yes, this is a WP powered site. It is very user friendly, and easy enough to make a site that is non-bloggy looking. Good luck!

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