I was planning to write about parsnips this morning — my new favorite veg — but something curious happened along the way. Last night as I was flipping the tv remote, I came upon a show on the Cooking Channel in which the chef (a new face to me) was peeling root vegetables. He referenced carrots, yellow potatoes, salsify and…white carrots. “But those are parsnips,” I declared, and decided to share a few new recipes with you. But I was curious, too. I know there are lots of varieties of carrots being grown today as evidenced in riotous colors in today’s farmers markets. I was also aware that red carrots have been grown in Egypt for centuries: They are sweet and often baked in the oven. But I had limited experience with white carrots. So I set about doing a bit of research and stumbled upon a whole new world: The World Carrot Museum, in fact! (www.carrotmuseum.com).
According to the museum, “the cultivated and edible carrot dates back about 5000 years and were first found in the Iranian plateau (including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran) and then later in the Persian Empire. At that time they were purple, yellow, red and probably white.” They became orange sometime around the 1500’s but you can read as much as you’d like about carrots on your own. This morning, I am interested only to find out why I’m writing about carrots at all. Here is the answer!
Throughout the Classical Period and the Middle Ages, writers constantly confused carrots and parsnips. “There was (and still is!),” according to the site, “enormous confusion when trying to sort out the individual histories of carrots and parsnips. The Latin name for the parsnip genus is thought to come from pastus, meaning “food.” This would further explain the historical confusion of the two vegetables, as well as offer a testament to how important they both were in the ancient diet.” Amen.
That tv chef is clearly struggling with this too, but, for clarity’s sake, those were parsnips he was peeling.
In honor of this historical debate, I offer you, no kidding, a prescient foreboding of this dilemma from my book, Radically Simple. It is called Milky Carrot and Parsnip Puree, and would make a very nice addition to your Thanksgiving table.
Milky Carrot and Parsnip Puree
When carrots and parsnips bubble in a milk bath with fresh sage and a clove of garlic, the resultant puree is the color of orange sherbet with a voluptuous texture and an alluring flavor. Nice with pork…or turkey.
1 pound carrots
1 pound parsnips
2 cups whole milk
4 large fresh sage leaves
1 large clove garlic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Peel the carrots and parsnips and cut them into 1/2-inch pieces. Place in a large saucepan. Add the milk (it will not cover the vegetables), sage, garlic and salt to taste. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, place the cover askew, and simmer 20 minutes, until very soft. Drain, saving the liquid. Transfer the vegetables to a food processor and process until very smooth; adding cooking liquid as needed to make a thick, creamy puree. Add the butter and process; season with salt and pepper. Serves 6