December 2014: Parsnips in the Snow

Cover of Parsnips in the Snow by Jane Anne Staw and Mary Swander

December 2014 library profile:

Parsnips in the Snow: Talks with Midwestern Gardeners


Sarge, tell them about the parsnips, the parsnips. Tell them about the parsnips.

Well, parsnips. You can plant them in the spring - we planted some this spring - and they stay in the ground all winter. Just let the frost come. Then you dig them out the next spring. That way they're tender. Starch turns to sugar within the parsnips, you know.

You can also dig them in the fall. That's what I've heard, but we've never tried it. We leave ours in until April, even under the snow. And you'd be surprised how beautiful they are.

~ Marion and Sarge Wendlandt, Iowa City, Iowa from Parsnips in the Snow by Jane Anne Staw and Mary Swander



The winter months not spent outside working in the garden are a great time to settle down and read the rich gardening wisdoms of others. The Sterling Morton Library has dozens of personal accounts of gardening and garden life. Parsnips in the Snow: Talks with Midwestern Gardeners was written by Jane Anne Staw and Mary Swander, who interviewed over 50 gardeners across the midwest about their garden lives, techniques, motivations, and experience culminating in a work full of wisdom, human triumph, loss, and life. With 12 full interviews of gardening enthusiasts from a Trappist monk to a Chicago inner-city gardener, the authors allow challenges and joys to come through in a warm and captivating way, capturing the voices and personalities of each gardener.



"'Boy, I used to work hard on my aunt and uncle's farm. Planting. Weeding. Cultivating - on my knees! And I worked with the horse a lot. And we'd plant the seeds with a driller. You now, we used to mark the rows. Not like they do today. When my aunt and uncle were making their living from gardening, they were gonna try to get all they could in the space they had. Just like a developer building houses today. Yip. Did you know, these fellows can fit fifteen houses to an acre?'"

~ Joe Kantor of Omaha, Nebraska from Parsnips in the Snow, p. 25


"'At last the neighborhood had a meeting with the owner and said, 'Why don't you open the lot up for gardening? Something would happen there at least.' So he did. The land became gardening plot, and fifty of us cultivated the ground for nine straight years... I gradually learned not to dig too deep, because the deeper I went, the more brick and cement and old iron and junk I found... I had about a foot of tillable soil and tried not to go below this. There were a couple of men who were very smart and made the raised beds shown in this slide. Those two raised-bed gardeners were very successful...I used to save this net that grapefruit comes in. I'd take these bags and lay them out flat. Then I got yarn and sewed them together so that I had big long strips of netting. I put that over the plants that were just coming up, where the rabbits sneak in and chew. Then later, when my strawberries were ripe, I put the netting over the berries because the birds used to feast on those, too.' To protect her Swiss chard, Marti rode the bus to Baskin Robbins and brought home ice cream containers. She cut out the bottoms, then sank the cartons in a ring around her greens, letting the sun in, but keeping the rabbits out. 'It looked terrible, like you were growing ice cream containers, but it worked very well.'"

~ Marti Roynan of Chicago, Illinois from Parsnips in the Snow, p. 77, 86-87


"'Then, a lady up the street here, she have green peas... And she say, one day them birds come down and stole all her peas. Every last one gone. But I tell her I got all these berries and the birds don't bother them none... But she said she was sure it was them birds. I didn't believe her no count. I know birds, and they don't never pick one vine clean. She said, 'I'm going to be sure this won't happen again.' She put out a scarecrow, pie tins, and I don't know what all. Then she said them birds didn't give her no more trouble. But just the other day she come down here and tell me, 'You know, it wasn't the birds after all that was stealing my peas. It was the boys next door. Their mother made them come over and apologize.'"

~ Floyd Brannon of Galesburg, Illinois from Parsnips in the Snow, p. 100-101


Similar books in the library

Gardening Letters to My Daughter by Anne Scott-James, 1991

Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi, 1981

One Man's Garden by Henry Mitchell, 1992

Home Ground by Allen Lacy, 1984

Time and the Gardener: Writings of a Lifelong Passion by Elisabeth Sheldon, 2003


Reader's advisory

If you're interested in gardening advice, check out our gardening collection, or if you're one for stories and memories, take a look at some of our biographies or our collections on gardening history.


Click here to see previous Monthly Library Profiles!