The slow procession of the season, from dirty snow to sparkling green pasture, breeds patience. Sweetness is the reward.
First, sap rises from the ground, then steam from the sugarhouse, yielding amber syrup: the blood of the earth filtered through trees.
Next, sun and rain perform their magic: The sun melts the snow; the rain washes it away, filling the streams with so much rinse water. The river at the bottom of my land chatters and clatters like a noisy kitchen as the river pushes rocks downstsream and bubbles around those it can’t move.
The earth dries, and I re-enter the garden. I find a row of parsnips I’d forgotten I’d left just so I could start the season with a harvest of sugar from the earth. Before any other garden chore, I dig them up.
Parsnips look like white carrots and taste sweeter. They were popular in ancient Rome, grown both for their starch content and for their sugar, which is what the starch converts to after a frost. That’s when they taste best.
I must have been forty before I met my first parsnip. Now, I enjoy them roasted, in stew and soup, and shredded into potato pancakes. I like them so much, I grow them, which takes patience. They grow slowly, taking a long time to mature.
Parsnips are among the first seeds I place in the ground, when the earth is still cold and the vegetable patch bare. They’re also the last crop to be harvested: after a frost in the fall, and after the winter, in early spring.
I’m pleased I left some to overwinter. They reward me for my patience, and I pull the roots, wash them with the newly reattached hose, and bring them inside. A few parsnips go a long way, and I’ve harvested a bucketful. I need to find new ways to eat them, and find a recipe for a spice cake that uses both parsnips and maple syrups – the two sweet tastes of spring. I bake it.
The deep aromas of spice and sweet fill the kitchen on a cool, rainy, day. The cake is richly textured and slightly damp,as sweet and aromatic as rich, tillable earth.