It’s a little late for doing this sort of thing, but I just dug my parsnips. Another week and they’d not be fit for eating. I really wanted to retry a recipe from Marjorie Mosser’s “Good Maine Food” that Down East republished last fall.
This cookbook was inspired by Maine historical novelist Kenneth Roberts’ sentimental and romantic Maine food traditions chapter in “Trending Into Maine.” The cookbook is full of traditional and nontraditional Maine recipes, and chock-a-block with Roberts’ commentary and opinionating. The Maine Humanities Council had a fundraising dinner last week celebrating Roberts, his novels, and the cookbook for which I had written a new foreword, and several historical notes.
I had a great time talking about food history in the novels and about the cookbook. Some of you were there — folks from Dover-Foxcroft, Mount Desert, North Haven and in between. What fun it was to talk with everyone. So what does this have to do with parsnips?
They were on the menu, along with potato leek soup and Banbury tarts — both of which we have featured here in this column — and game hens, carrots and a salad. I think the folks who cooked the dinner did a masterful job with the soup and game hens, and Banbury tarts. The parsnip cakes came out a little differently from what I had expected based on my reading of the recipe in the Mosser cookbook. So I wanted to try them out for myself.
They are mindlessly simple. Mashed parsnip, a little flour, egg, salt and dip in cracker crumbs or not, season to taste, fry, eat. Spring-dug parsnips are so flavorful and sweet that I like to taste parsnip when I eat them.
I did add an interesting seasoning made here in Maine called maple sugar pepper, a mixture of ground pepper and maple sugar, unsurprisingly enough, really delightful, which added a nice fillip without diminishing the parsnip flavor. I dipped some of the parsnip cake mixture into crushed crackers before I fried them and some I merely fried.
A friend who sampled these with me thought that the crispy exterior of the crumb-dipped cakes was very pleasing, but that the crackerless ones tasted more of parsnip. I agreed. You get to do it either way. I used a buttery cracker because I did not have a saltine-type around. Whichever you choose, make sure the crumbs are very fine. P.S. I fried them in bacon fat.
Serves four to six.
2 cups cooked and mashed parsnips
1 large egg
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix the parsnips, egg, flour, butter, and salt and pepper together very well. Put the crumbs into a bowl and drop the parsnip cakes in spoonfuls into the crumbs, turn over gently and put onto a well-oiled frying pan. Fry until golden on one side then turn over and fry on the other side. Alternatively, merely drop parsnip cakes onto a well-greased pan and fry both sides.
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