Such an intriguing title, isn't it?
The title of this post is the opening question to a joke I recently heard.
I'll tell you the answer at the end of this post about Parsley (Petroselinum crispum "Petro-sah-LIE-num").
That sounds like a spell from Harry Potter. Petroselinum crispum. Parsley.
Now I have to ask: Are you growing, Parsley? I am.
But, I generally only plant the flat-leaf variety - since the curly leaf Parsley is used mainly as a garnish and I never have much time for it since I'm cooking for teenagers. I usually have a line at the stove for every meal, so there's not much garnishing go on at our house.
Parsley is a member of the Umbelliferae family, which also includes celery, carrots, dill, cilantro, caraway, cumin, and poisonous hemlock. It also includes other essential herbs like Angelica, fennel, lovage, and parsnip, just to name a few.
The Umbelliferae ("Um-bull-iffer-EYE") are aromatic flowering plants, and they are favorites among the ladybugs and parasitic wasps.
And oh man, if you ever grow Angelica, you will see parasitic wasps like crazy. Just insane.
Last summer, my husband used to sit out on the porch to take phone calls, and one time he came in, and he was like, "Oh my gosh. I cannot believe all the wasps on this one plant out there."
And, I knew right away what he was talking about - and you will, too, if you ever grow Angelica.
Now it's easy to see how the family Umbelliferae got its name. It's because of the tiny flowers that are clustered together to form an umbel – a little flower overhang reminiscent of an umbrella.
Just think of dill in flower, and you'll see that amazing umbel, and you'll immediately understand the family name.
In terms of flavor, Parsley can be a little controversial: you either love it or you hate it.
Now, Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) has its detractors.
Ogden Nash wrote, "Parsley is Gharsley." And, Margaret Fishback cursed,
"Parsley, Parsley, everywhere. Damn! I want my victuals bare."
And, the Minneapolis journalist Bradley L Morrison wrote an uncomplimentary ballad to Parsley. I found it in a 1963 newspaper.
A sprig of Parsley on my butter
Brings thoughts that I had best not utter.
It's far more than I can endure.
When it floats on my soup du jour.
I shun the hostess who would shred
The silly stuff on buttered bread.
I always have a yen to bop
The chef who "parslies" my lamb chop.
Parsley is a dreadful habit
Which I would love, were I a rabbit.
But since I am a man, alas,
I'd just as soon eat sauteed grass.
These lines are to the Parsley plant
Which I try hard to like, but can't.
Yet the history of Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) isn't all bad.
The ancient Greeks wore crowns of Parsley to honor their dead, and Greek gardens were bordered with both Parsley and Rue.
Thus, the saying "We are at the Parsley and Rue," it's just another way of saying, "We are just getting started..."
And, there's an old saying in old cooking texts that goes,
"Parsley is the crown of cookery. It once crowned man; it now crowns his food."
Parsley serves a particular and savory purpose in the kitchen. Indeed, the culinary uses for Parsley or endless.
A 1901 article from The St Louis Republic advised:
"Parsley should always accompany onions, as it counteracts the strong odor and sweetens the breath: for this reason, it is one of the main ingredients in potato salad. Bear this fact in mind when using onion for a flavoring."
So, Parsley acts as an onion neutralizer.
I can almost see myself standing in front of the oven cooking onions and dropping in a little Parsley... saying, Petroselinum crispum. Take that, onions!
And, The Cincinnati Enquirer posted this favorable Ode to Parsley in August 1851.
"Without Parsley, some of the world's finest dishes would lack the savor which makes them stand head and shoulder above their unParsleyed cousins.
Imagine new potatoes in butter alone lacking a dash of shredded greenery.
Imagine hashed-browned spuds robbed of this most decorative, most flavor-some touch.
What plate of lamb chops would be complete without its crispum?
And what home garden could be as beautiful if it lacked a cheery Parsley border?
When winter winds blow cold outside the kitchen window, doesn't a pot of fresh, verdant Parsley add beauty as well as savor to the household?
No dinner piece de resistance can be truly imposing missing its fluffy, green decoration. Without it, a whole list of soups would be little more than hot."
If you've never grown Parsley, I hope you'll give it a try. Maybe start with the curled and use it as a garnish. Or, go straight to the flat-leaf and use it with potatoes or soups.
Before I close, I thought I'd ask if you have ever tried growing the herb chervil?
Chervil is sometimes called gourmet Parsley, but it tastes similar to tarragon.
Chervil has a beautiful and delicate-looking fern-like leaf, which turns red in the fall, which is another plus for growing Chervil.
In fact, August is a wonderful time to sow Chervil - so keep that in mind when you're planning your fall garden.
And, here's a fun Chervil fact:
The 1884 Dictionary of English Names of Plants lists Chervil as "the shepherd's clock" because the blossoms open at five in the morning and then close up around eight in the evening.
Finally, the word Chervil is derived from a Greek word meaning "the herb of rejoicing" or "the cheer leaf."
And, I almost forgot to share the answer to the joke at the top of the post.
What's green and sings?