Ireland: Parsnip Cakes (March 9, 2009)
Ireland and the potato are so closely connected in most people's minds that sometimes it's hard to remember that there was a time when the vegetable and the island hadn't yet been introduced to each other. For the thousands of years before that, people who lived in Ireland had to depend on other vegetables to get by -- especially the root vegetables, which love the local climate and generally aren't troubled by the cool summers that are usually the norm.
One of these is the parsnip --- not a vegetable that's foremost in people's minds these days. But a few centuries back, things were much different. "The Irish feed much also upon parsnips," comments one traveler passing through in 1673. And even now the vegetable still routinely turns up on tables all over the country in soups and stews, but most frequently just boiled, mashed and served up with butter, salt and pepper.
Parsnip cakes like these are a slightly newer development: the first written recipes for them turn up in the mid-1700's. Once again the parsnips are boiled and mashed, but then flour and seasonings are added -- specifically mace, a spicing that suggests this recipe has roots even further back in a time when what we now consider the "sweet" spices were still a commonplace in savory dishes. Then the cakes are dipped in egg, breaded, and fried.
These make an ideal side dish for the cook looking for something traditional to go with the boiled bacon and cabbage, but also wanting to avoid the (otherwise unavoidable) potato.
Click on "read more" for the recipe and method.
- 1 lb / 450 g parsnips (baby parsnips if possible)
- 2-3 heaping tablespoons flour
- Several pinches of ground mace
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 8 heaping tablespoons breadcrumbs (or corn flake crumbs if you prefer)
- Oil for frying
Peel and slice the parsnips: then boil in salted water until tender. Drain and mash.
Add the flour, mace, melted butter, salt and pepper, and mix well. After mixing, refrigerate for at least an hour so that the mixture becomes a little easier to handle.
With floured hands, form into round cakes about 1/3-1/2 inch thick and 2-3 inches across. (Smaller is better here, as it makes the cakes easier to handle during the next couple of steps.)
Dip the cakes in the beaten egg and then in the bread crumbs or corn flake crumbs. Fry in hot oil until browned on both sides.
Serves about 4 as a side dish.