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The Trick Is Using Parsnips in Muffins; the Treat Is the Taste

Halloween is a holiday when imagination runs wild. No matter your age, whether you are going to a party or a parade, this is the holiday to join the masquerade. The possibilities are endless — you can present yourself as a superhero or a world leader, a puppy or a princess, a vampire or a bunny rabbit. Halloween treats are everywhere, free when you call out “Trick or Treat” at the home of a friendly neighbor.

Halloween traditions began more than 2,000 years ago with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). This harvest festival marked summer’s end with bonfires and celebrants in costumes and masks. Bowls of food were placed outside homes to satisfy ghosts. Turnips were carved and hollowed to create Jack-o-lanterns lit by glowing embers.

Thoughts of Halloween disguises and Halloween treats got me to wondering: Could I disguise an often overlooked and sometimes disparaged vegetable, rich in vitamins and minerals and low in calories, in a Halloween treat? I was thinking about parsnips. To be honest, I have never been a parsnip fan. I’ve cooked them, served them and composted them, generally in that order. My past attempts have been dry, woody, insipid or simply uninspiring.

Time to let my imagination run wild, time to dress up a parsnip as a sweet treat. Grated parsnip, combined with nuts, dried fruit and sugar, held together with flour and egg, fluffed up with baking powder and oil, disguised in a silver fluted skirt — Say Boo! The costumed parsnip was on its way to the Halloween party. Here’s how I did it.

Parsnip Muffins

2 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon dry ginger

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 eggs

3/4 cup canola oil

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup chopped almonds

1/2 cup dried peaches, diced

2 large parsnips, coarsely grated

1 large apple, coarsely grated

I began by preheating the oven to 350 degrees and placing paper liners in 18 muffin cups. I used the largest holes on a box grater to grate the parsnips and the apple, about three cups in all, and set it aside. I whisked together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ginger and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl, I whisked together two eggs, three-quarters of a cup of oil, half a cup of milk and a teaspoon of vanilla. I folded the egg mixture into the flour mixture, added the almonds, peaches, parsnips and apple and stirred to combine.

I divided the batter among the muffin cups and baked the muffins for 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center came out clean. Removed from the pan, the muffins cooled on a wire rack.

With a basket of muffins in hand (and a paper asking, “What is disguised in the muffin?”) 15 friends sampled the muffins. Guesses included coconut, orange, banana, carrots, lemon zest, zucchini, guava, cauliflower, pistachio and my favorite — ground-up doughnuts. No one guessed parsnips – a perfect disguise.

I used dry peaches, but raisins, currents, crystallized ginger, dried cranberries or cherries would also work. Almonds can be replaced with walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts, or omitted. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new Halloween tradition — Masquerading Vegetables on Parade.

With newfound respect for parsnips, I’m looking for other ways to use them. Any thoughts?

Carol Egbert lives in Quechee, where she paints and cooks. Her food blog can be found at www.carolegbert.com