Eat those bad boys

Posted on April 7, 2011


I’ve been arguing that the best way to fight invasive species is to eat them. I mean that we–people–should eat them. I’m opposed to bringing in exotic things that will eat the exotic pests because once they’ve done the job, well, what will they eat next? Exactly. So we need to eat them ourselves. I’m still waiting for a good recipe for Asian Carp, so we’ve put that one on hold for the moment, but then here came a release from Wagbo.

Wild parsnip diggin’.  Saturday, April 23rd, 3pm: Join the Martha Wagbo Farm and Education Center as we harvest wild parsnip from our fields. Few know that this invasive bane of habitat restorers is the exact same plant you buy in the store! Bring a shovel to harvest this delicious root vegetable and help preserve native wildflowers. Free and open to the public. For more info, contact Wagbo at 231-536-0333.

I admire this effort.  First of all, your ears have to perk up at the idea of harvesting anything in northern Michigan in April.  Then there’s the clever ploy.  Come over to our house, learn how to find and harvest free food, help preserve native wildflowers—and bring a shovel.  Hmm.  A garden trowel sounds like foraging and flower defense.  A shovel sounds like serious work.  Good for them.  Because I am intrigued and I just might go over there with my shovel. 

Dig those wild weeds!  So now the next thing is a recipe, right?  Because, I have to be honest here, I do not buy this plant in the store.  I buy Brussels sprouts.  I buy spinach.  I buy peas and squash and potatoes.  No parsnips.  But I can learn. 

I went looking over at Foodie with Family.  Rebecca Lindamood is exactly the sort of person who could make parsnips fun.  Or Asian Carp, come to that, but we’re saving those for another occasion.  No luck.  I went looking at Bread and Putter.  No luck.  (So Jennifer, if you’re wondering who searched for parsnips on your blog . . . ).  Finally I gave in and googled.

Those looked like pretty good recipes. But you know what? It turns out parsnips are really best in late fall or early winter. So maybe this is not the ideal time to roast them.  Still, I’ll bet my Civil War veterans used to dig up wild parsnips and eat them with gratitude this time of year.  I turned to my ancient Encyclopedia of Cooking, and found a recipe for . . . Parsnip Wine.  It calls for a peck of parsnips and a flannel bag of four thicknesses (for straining) and six pounds of sugar.  (Brown makes it stronger but darker.)  You cook that up and strain it and add a cake of yeast and ferment it for a week and then cork it and put it away in a dark place for six months.  I tell you, those Civil War veterans were tough.

And then I went looking for images and then I found the Iowa State extension service site with its warnings about Wild parsnips and especially about making sure you know the difference between the parsnips and poison hemlock.  That’s the trouble with foraging.  It’s so easy to make the last mistake of your life.

So I’m mulling over the whole wild parsnip thing, although I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself over at Wagbo shoveling away with the rest of ’em.  I am going to go over to Yvonne Stephens’s place and learn about growing edible mushrooms, too.  We grow lots of the other kind by accident, so I figure we might have the right conditions for the good kind.  But all of this warrants a little caution.

And that brings us to the tree that is attractively disposed at the top of this post.  It’s there mostly because I like it, but also because it will help me remember to be cautious. That tree spreads its muscular limbs over some of the Civil War veterans who are buried over at Southern Cemetery. I don’t want to join them prematurely because I’ve been experimenting with interesting foods without proper supervision.