Recipe 22: Good Housekeeping’s Fricassee of Parsnips (1909)

I have been sitting on this recipe for a week trying to figure out SOMETHING to write for it. Parsnips have a long history of cultivation and can be found in records of antiquity but they are not as popular today. They are full of nutrients and fiber but taste so good that they were used as a sweetener before sugar cane was readily available. It is unfortunate that they are not more commonly used (I had never had a parsnip in my life prior to this recipe).

The point of this blog is to learn how to cook and to eat new things, so I bought some before the COVID-19 panic in March and finally got around to cooking them last week. Given the recent food shortages, I have been using what I already have and finding a recipe that uses those ingredients versus buying the ingredients for a specific dish. All of the recipes I found using parsnips seemed complicated or did not seem like they would taste very good. I found this recipe and was intrigued by the “fricassee” part, which sounds exciting but really only means meat or vegetables cooked in some kind of cream sauce. Oh, well.

The recipe is as follows:

Scrape the parsnips and boil them in milk until tender. Take out and cut them in four pieces if they are large; add a piece of butter the size of a walnut, also salt and pepper to the milk they were boiled in, thicken with very little cornstarch or flour; put the parsnips back in the dressing and let them simmer about forty minutes.-Mrs Sada Ballard

I tried to find some information on Mrs Sada Ballard but came up short beyond some writing in “Good Housekeeping” and a fiction story in the Augusta, Maine publication “Comfort” from August 1912. I always think the most interesting part of doing this is researching the people who made the recipes and thinking about what life was like when these recipes were written. I wish I could learn more about this woman, who she was, and how she ended up contributing to “Good Housekeeping” and writing stories.

Anyway, the first step is to scrape the parsnips and boil them in milk until tender.

This step takes about 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size of the parsnips. I have learned that smaller is better when it comes to parsnips because they have more flavor and are less “woody” in the center.

The next step is to remove the parsnips from the boiling water and cut them into smaller pieces if they are large. I sliced mine into more than 4 slices because my parsnips were on the big side and I wanted them to cook quicker and be bite-sized.

You can see the woody, hard part in the center of the parsnips. I had to cut around that to get pieces that were actually edible.

Next, add butter and salt and pepper to the milk the parsnips were boiled in and thicken with flour or corn starch (I used corn starch).

Finally, add the parsnips to the milk mixture and let them simmer for approximately 40 minutes.

Man, Mrs Sada Ballard was not kidding when she said it would take 40 minutes to reduce the sauce. I sat there and waited…

and waited…

and waited. By the 40 minute mark the parsnip sauce was STILL not reduced enough so I increased the heat and FINALLY everything came together.

This is the final product:

Overall, this was not bad. The parsnips had a sweet taste and were very tender. The sauce was a little bland, but that was to be expected. I might add a little more salt and pepper next time.

Time Travel Experience: The recipe is over 100 years old and parsnips are not very commonly prepared anymore, so that alone made the recipe feel like a trip back in time. This recipe (because of the sauce) reminded me of the Chicken Terrapin recipe that I made for my second experiment (both came from the same cookbook and the same time period). It seems as if a lot of the dishes from this time period were prepared in some kind of cream sauce without as much flavor as we have in a lot of our dishes now because of the availability of spices and different ingredients (I assume).

Overall Experience: I always have the most fun when I cook foods that I have never eaten (which, in my case, seems to be any root vegetable other than the most common ones). Plus, I learned what “fricassee” means! Awesome!

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