Master Gardener Nancy Crowe has learned her lesson about parsley.
Until I started gardening, I had little respect for parsley.
It probably began while I was sitting in a restaurant booster seat and noticed a sprig of it on my plate. One of my parents probably told me it was parsley and just there for decoration. The idea of plating and presentation was no doubt lost on me. Decoration at mealtimes meant my bowl with the teddy bear on it — not gratuitous green stuff.
It wasn’t until my Master Gardener class that I learned parsley is actually a great source of vitamin C, vitamin A and folic acid. In fact, says Mercola.com, it has three times as much vitamin C as oranges and twice as much iron as spinach. That’s more than something pretty on a plate.
Parsley was once used medicinally, and the ancient Greeks held it to be sacred. They even used it to adorn the winners in athletic competitions. Perhaps in those days before gold, silver and bronze, second place got sage and third place got rosemary — and thyme got away from them.
I was reminded of parsley’s benefits by Louise Rennecker, Advanced Master Gardener and hostess of At the Herb Lady’s Garden Bed and Breakfast, in her presentation “Simple Herbs for Complex Appetites” at the Home and Garden Show a few years ago. While the most popular parsley is the curly kind you see on restaurant plates, Rennecker said the Italian or flat-leaf variety is much better for culinary use. She also said parsley, a marginally hardy biennial, should be grown as an annual.
If you want to start the plants from seed, be aware that parsley is a slow starter. To get a head start, the Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests soaking the seeds overnight and planting them in individual pots indoors 10 to 12 weeks before the last spring frost. Or plant the seeds outside three to four weeks before the last spring frost; the almanac says the plants can handle the cold.
When you harvest parsley, snip from the outer portions of the plant and avoid taking more than a third of any one plant at a time. Fresh stalks of parsley can be kept in water in the refrigerator, but parsley is very often used dry. If you want to go this route, tie the stalks together at the base and hang them up in a warm, dry place. Once the parsley is dry (as in crumbly), crumble it all and store it in an airtight container away from light.
One source I checked suggested a much better way to preserve parsley is by freezing. You can simply bag it (pushing out as much air as possible before sealing). Another idea: Make a thick puree of the parsley using water or olive oil and freeze the mix in an ice cube tray. Once it’s frozen through, pop out the cubes and put them in a sealable plastic bag for storage. (Be sure to put a label on the bag so that the funny-looking green ice cubes in your freezer aren’t mistaken for a prank gone awry, a St. Patrick’s day leftover or both.) The cubes can be added directly to soups or stews.
That’s as far into the cooking frontier as I go. Just remember: Parsley is worth more than a passing glance.