This 16th-century Dutch recipe is one I’ve been sitting on for a few years. I first made it a while ago and developed an adaptation inspired by the work of Christianne Muusers, but for whatever reason I put it away in my files and never got around to posting it.
The recipe comes from Eenen Nyeuwen Coock Boeck, a cookbook compiled by Gheeraert Vorselman and published in Belgium in 1560. The book itself is not digitized to my knowledge, but there is a 1971 reprint with commentary by Belgian historian Elly Cockx-Indestege.
I haven’t been able to find much about Gheeraert Vorselman other than he was a physician (not a cook) who was interested in dietetics. Much of his book is based on recipes by Thomas Vander Noot (see Een notabel boecxken van cokeryen – circa 1514) and Bartolomeo Platina. Some of his source material is also from the convolute manuscript Gent KANTL 15, which has been transcribed and translated into modern Dutch and English.
Because I have no direct access to the original Vorselman text, I decided to look for his source material. I have been doing this long enough to know better than to blindly trust the accuracy of secondary sources, especially online, so it was very important to me to find an original document. This parsnip recipe wasn’t in the Gent KANTL manuscript or in Vander Noot’s book, so I was left with Platina.
After a couple hours poring over a digitized Latin copy of Platina’s 1480 book, “De Honesta Voluptate ac Valitudine,” I almost jumped out of my seat when I finally found his description of a parsnip salad. It is not in recipe form, but written in a section about the difference between parsnips and carrots and their health benefits.
Here is my transcription of the Latin text:
Bis elixanda est pastinaca, prima decoctio abiicitur, secundo cum lactuca incoquitur. Inde in patinam translata cum sale aceto, coriandro, pipere condita, esui percommode dat. Nam & tussim & pleuresim, & hydropisim sedat, ac uenere excitat. Frugiet excauata post prima concoctione, in oleo & liquamine farina inuoluta solet.
A rough Latin translation (please correct mistakes if you see them):
The parsnip is boiled twice, the first cooking [water] is discarded, the second is boiled with lettuce. Then, having been transferred into a pan with salt, vinegar, coriander and seasoned pepper, it is very convenient to eat. For it both calms cough and pleurisy and hydropisis, and stirs up arousal. The core is scooped out after the first boiling, and is usually fried in oil and sauce.
Solaet van Pastinaken (Parsnip Salad)
Original Middle Dutch text by Gheeraert Vorselman:
Solaet van pastinaken. Neemt pastinaken ende siet se wel, ende ghiet dat water uut; dan neemt versch water ende siet se in dat water weder met lactouwen; dan doet se in een schotel ende doet er op sout, azijn, corianden ende peperpoeder. Men mach se ooc frijten in boter oft oly na dat se eens ghesoden is ende binnen het hert uut ghedaen ende in die bloemen ghewentelt.
Modern Dutch translation by Christianne Muusers:
Salade van pastinaken. Neem pastinaken en kook ze goed, giet het water af. Neem dan vers water en kook ze opnieuw in dat water met sla. Doe ze dan in een schotel, en doe erop zout, azijn, koriander en peperpoeder. Men kan [de pastinaak] ook bakken in boter of olie na dat ze een keer gekookt is, als de kern eruit gehaald is en [de plakjes] door de bloem zijn gehaald.
My English translation:
Parsnip salad. Take parsnips and boil them well, drain the water. Then take fresh water and boil them again in the water with lettuce. Then put them in a dish, and add salt, vinegar, coriander and pepper powder. One can also fry (the parsnips) in butter or oil after it has been boiled once, when the core has been removed and (the pieces) have been coated with flour.
- 3-4 sliced parsnips, peeled and ideally cored (see notes)
- 3 packed cups of leafy lettuce, chopped (see notes)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tsp. vinegar
- 2 tsp. ground coriander
- 3 T. flour
- Butter or olive oil for frying
Parsnips may or may not need to be cored, depending on how old they are. You can usually tell how woody the cores will be once you cut off the stems. Most of the time they are fine to just slice and cook as you would a carrot. If the core feels especially tough, slice the parsnip lengthwise and cut out the core with a paring knife.
Spinach, butter lettuce or romaine will work. Of the three, romaine or romaine hearts would be my last choice but as you can see from the pictures, that is what I used this time around. Spinach is my personal favorite, and it doesn’t need to be chopped.
Step ONE: The Parsnips
Take parsnips and boil them well, drain the water. Then take fresh water and boil them again in the water with lettuce.
Bring a pot of salt water to a boil. Boil sliced parsnips until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and set the parsnips aside.
If you wish to do this exactly according the recipe instructions, bring another pot of salt water to a boil and add the cooked parsnips and lettuce. Otherwise, just set the parsnips aside to be seasoned.
Note: For this version, I chose to core my parsnips so they look to be more chopped than sliced. If you were to thinly slice your un-cored parsnips, they would be circles. Either way you do it is fine. I’ve made it both ways, and the only real difference is presentation.
Step TWO: The Lettuce
In the 15th-century, lettuce was typically cooked and not eaten raw. This was partially due to food safety, but mostly because of the four humour system. Lettuce was considered to be a cold and wet food, which was thought to be unhealthy.
Vorselman clearly tells us to boil the lettuce, but Platina mentions both options elsewhere in his book:
Lactucas cruda si lotione non idigebunt, sic condi.es.sunt denim salubriores, q qux aqua lavantur, in patinam impones, salem contritum insparges olei parum, plusculum aceti insondes, ac statim deuorabis. sunt qui huic condito parum mentx & petrosellini addant, ne omnino insipidum uideatur, neue nimia lactucx frigiditas stomacho noceat.Platina, p. xxv-xxvi
Raw lettuce, if they don’t need washing, are so much healthier than the ones that are washed in water, you put it on a pan, you sprinkle with a little olive oil, saute it a little more, and consume it immediately. There are some who add a little flour and parsley to this flavor, lest it may seem altogether tasteless, or excessively cold lettuce may harm the stomach.
So, for this recipe you may use cooked or raw lettuce. Raw is better in my opinion, and possibly better suited to the modern palate. But if you choose to cook it, think of it as more of a blanch. Put the chopped lettuce in the boiling water for about 30 seconds (no longer), drain and rinse with cold water. Let it dry a bit before combining with the parsnips and seasonings.
Step THREE: Fry the Parsnips
One can also fry (the parsnips) in butter or oil after it has been boiled once, when the core has been removed and (the pieces) have been coated with flour.
The original recipe suggests frying as an optional method, but I think this is the best way to prepare the parsnips.
Put the cooked parsnips in a bowl and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Add flour and 1 tsp. of the coriander and coat the parsnips well. Fry in butter or oil until both sides are browned.
Step FOUR: Toss the Salad
Then put them in a dish, and add salt, vinegar, coriander and pepper powder.
If you’ve fried the parsnips, they’ll already be seasoned. If not, you’ll need to season them with the salad.
Dress the lettuce with vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and the remaining teaspoon of coriander. Add the fried parsnips and toss it all together to distribute the flavors evenly.
I like this salad a lot. It is simple, but as flavorful as you want it to be. I honestly don’t mind the blanched lettuce as long as it’s seasoned well, but I definitely prefer it raw. This is an excellent and unique way to use parsnips, and the salad could be eaten as a side or as a light entree.
I considered adding a little bit of medieval history relating to the parsnip, but Matt Peskett of Grow Like Grandad has already done an excellent job of that. I highly recommend you take a look at his article, “Parsnips: Medieval Grow Your Own,” which is an English translation of a medieval herbalist/medical text.
- 3-4 parsnips, peeled
- 3 c. spinach, butter lettuce or romaine, chopped.
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 t. vinegar
- 2 t. ground coriander
- 3 T. flour
- Butter or oil for frying
Core parsnips, if necessary. Slice and boil in salt water until tender (about 5 minutes). Drain and set aside. In a bowl, season parsnips with salt and pepper, and up to 2 tsp. coriander. Add flour and stir well to coat the parsnips. Fry in butter or oil until brown.
Put raw or lightly blanched lettuce in a serving bowl. Dress with vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and the remaining coriander. Add fried parsnips and toss well. Serve.
- Cockx-Indestege, Elly. Eenen nyeuwen coock boeck. Kookboek samengesteld door Gheeraert Vorselman en gedrukt te Antwerpen in 1560. Wiesbaden, 1971.
- Muusers, Christianne. Coquinaria. Accessed October 3, 2021. https://coquinaria.nl.
- Platina, Bartolomeo, 1421-1481, and Giovanni Tacuino. Platine Viri Celeberrimi De Honesta Voluptate Ac Valitudine Libri Decem Q[uam] Emendatissime Impressi: Cum Noua Tabula [et] Indice. Venetiis: Per Ioa[n]ne[m] Tacuinu[m] de Trino, 1517. Accessed via Hathitrust, October 3, 2021. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/ucm.5316531245
- Weiss-Adamson, Melitta. Food in the Middle Ages. Greenwood Press, CT. USA. 2004.