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.

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