Spring Soup with Leeks, Parsnips, Potatoes and Horseradish


Along with the seasons, food changes color, too

By Calley Hastings, Special to the Free Press • Sunday, April 18, 2010

There are many indications we have emerged from the white, insular cold of winter into the fresh, warm green of spring. These two colors, white and green, that mark this transition also are found in the foods available to us in April.

Once the snow has melted, and the ground is workable, you can go out with your pitchfork and dig up white tubers and roots that have been storing starches and carbohydrates underground all winter. The three that come to mind are parsnips, horseradish and Jerusalem artichokes. All look strikingly similar though they are nuanced in taste, texture and appearance.

Parsnips are planted in the spring and grow until fall, when they can be covered with mulch and harvested the following spring. Parsnips also can be harvested in the fall or winter as long as they have been through a few frosts to sweeten them up.

Horseradish, on the other hand, is a perennial plant, and its roots can be harvested in the spring every year. If you harvest too early they won’t have developed much heat. The horseradish roots look strikingly similar to the other white vegetables of spring and are dug around the same time. You peel the roots, chop them up and store them in vinegar or use fresh.

Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, are an interesting tuber. They are made up primarily of carbohydrates rather than starch like in potatoes. They are crisp when fresh but can become mushy if overcooked. The flowers look similar to sunflowers. Sunchokes easily can become a weed in any garden if they aren’t properly managed.

While the previous year’s bounty can be dug up in the spring garden, there are also myriad green things shooting up everywhere to be harvested. Many gardeners and farmers are growing spring greens in greenhouses, and others are out foraging in the woods. The food theme is green and leafy.

My two favorite foods to harvest this time of year are wild leeks, commonly known as ramps, and fiddleheads. The fiddlehead season hasn’t hit this area of Vermont yet, but the ramps are prolific and have been since Easter. Both the bulb and the green leafy part of the ramp are edible. Ramps are easily identifiable in the woods.

If you are interested in learning to forage wild edibles check out, “Stalking the Wild Asparagus,” or have an experienced forager take you out. There also are many courses about wild edibles offered in Vermont in the spring.

It’s great to be in the kitchen this time of year with a new variety of vegetables and wild edibles to work with. Think: leek and garlic pesto, or leek, sunchoke and parsnip quiche!

Most recently I made a leek, parsnip, potato and horseradish soup. The parsnips and horseradish were harvested from our garden, the leeks from a local patch, and the potatoes from the root cellar. The base of the soup is glorious dairy. Of course, there is always ample dairy to be found in Vermont, so I used goat’s milk from our farm, butter from Cabot and cream from Strafford Organic Creamery. Even though the days are warming up, it is still chilly enough at night to enjoy a warm soup.

New Farm Store and Border Collie!

As always spring is full of new and wonderful surprises. Most recently in this state we experienced several inches of snow right after a few days straight of glorious 65 degree weather. The biggest issue of course, was that just a few days before our snow tires had been taken off, and the new summer tires led to one car in the ditch! Luckily we got it out without too much fanfare. Other spring news is the renovation of our storage barn into a shipping and handling ‘department’ and a fun new farm store. We hope to have lots of visitors this summer. Find out more!

The most challenging and exciting new addition to the farm is a 3 month old border collie pup named Gracie.  She is in a rigorous training program! Ideally, she will be able to work our herd of goats over the next couple of years. So far she has taken to herding our other border collie Molly. The verdict is still out as to whether this with be a good thing or not! Stay tuned for news about the new greenhouse/barn, the garden and goats going to pasture when all this snow melts! Learn more.

Upper Valley Life Interview

Upper Valley Life author Laura Jean Whitcomb wonders how four ingredients can taste so good—and gets some answers in this short interview with Judith Irving.  See Upper Valley Life, March-April 2010, Vol. 5, No. 1, p22 and read the full text.

Spring on the Farm

Lily (intern at Fat Toad Farm)

A few weeks ago Lily, an avid farmer and writer, joined the crew at Fat Toad Farm to spend three months living and working with us. She is amazing and has taken on the renovation of a shipping and handling ‘department’ as well as a new farm store. Not to mention her incredible way with the animals. Here are a few of her reflections with many more to come over the next few months…

“For the first time, in the midst of my second week at Fat Toad, I am left alone at the farm to find the day ending peacefully with wind. I am sitting outside beneath the kitchen windows looking across the grass and the dirt road nearby — to the field that harbors the garden — which lies dormant for only a few more weeks.

In this quiet, only the dogs are moving — Molly waiting always for me to toss a stick. She picks it up and drops it over my lap repeatedly as I write this — reminding me — trying — trying again — persistent. Momentarily she pauses to notice and sniff the breeze — to assess it’s far off rustle, and feel it move in her fur. Her stick is wet, and mostly I throw it off my bare legs to be rid of the slobber I feel chilling my skin as it dampens my feet.

When she misses the pass and paces the grass for a long bit of time, her panting grows distant and the small echo of frogs in the woods beyond the field takes up in the slow, quiet silence.

A white sheep with a brass tail that twirls in the wind creaks as it spins on a pole in the grass.

And in all this, time passes — though it’s hard to believe.

Looking up, the sky is bedding on a milky stretch of cloud that covers all horizons and holds only the faintest wash of color drawn out by the sun – which has now set beyond the hillside to the west. Out over those hills, where trees stand ruddy, budding – darker clouds loom in the same unbroken stretch, bearing rain moving forward.

Then thunder really does ripple thru the sky — like in water — out above the darkly painted clouds. A cold breeze comes on. But the birds call out their evening chorus — unbroken — perhaps saying something about the weather, too.

I listen for the goats over the hill, and hear only a few chickens squawking nearby.

There are times and ways when the rain and cloudy wet weather feel like a hindrance to life moving forward. But to see it and know it as a part of a great and necessary rhythm — and to go out in to it, humbled, head bent, working — this is a great gift that allows one to enjoy things as they are — the way animals do.

As humans, we exist beyond instinct. We know desires and indulgence and drama and emotion. For some of that, I suppose, we are blessed. But right now, I feel blessed to be here where I am serving other lives, where I am, with others, nurturing the lives of these animals who are so sweet and so simple. By giving way to these other beings, so much suddenly becomes easier to take in.


Why not marvel at the cold wet air! Soon enough it will be what is green glowing grass…and by then the goat kids will be many days bigger – growing to a point where it’s harder to pick them up and to hold them and breathe them in. And all this rain water undoubtedly waits for our fingers to draw it up in the garden. I can feel the fertile earth beneath my boots waiting to push life through her muddy surface. What a mate she’ll make for the sun!

Thus, I do not mourn these rainy days, but grow evermore eager to see the change.”