Some things in writing must be researched. Most things, actually, because for all my enthusiasm I’m not going to break a rib just so I know how much it hurts. But a very few things I can figure out myself. They’re just the strange, small details.
Like parsnip porridge. You’ve (hopefully) already read the scene where Alynn attempts to make oatmeal out of parsnips because the root cellar’s snowed over. (It’s in Tales of an Active Imagination, Part 2: Lights, Camera, Action! if you’re interested.) In an earlier version of Where the Clouds Catch Fire, before I learned that potatoes didn’t come to Ireland until the 1500s, I had Alynn make potato porridge. And I actually made some myself, just to find out how terrible it would taste.
It turns out that boiled potato bits with onion and garlic actually taste pretty good.
So then, it was back to the drawing board, and I thought long and hard about what could ruin food. And eventually, I found my answer: milfoil.
You might know milfoil by its more common name: yarrow. And even when it goes by “yarrow,” it’s not too well known, thanks to a declining knowledge of herbs and plants (and nature in general) in North America. I only call it “milfoil” in Where the Clouds Catch Fire because it sounds more British, and for sake of clarity, I’ll stick to “milfoil” and not switch terms on you.
Milfoil is my personal favorite herb. (I’m only familiar with 3 or 4 others, though, so it doesn’t have too much competition.) But milfoil is good for literally everything. Taken internally, it helps cure colds, coughs, flus, fevers, and chicken pox. I’ve heard it’s good for your liver. If you know what you’re doing (and I apparently don’t), you can even take a milfoil bath to get rid of high fevers overnight. Externally, it helps cuts and sprains heal, and the leaves stop bleeding. I use milfoil quite often in this aspect. I’m the queen of cutting myself shaving.
On top of all that, milfoil is beautiful. You might be more familiar with Queen Anne’s Lace—the beautiful white flowers that fill roadsides and empty lots in the early summer. Milfoil is barely distinguishable from it. Milfoil also smells divine, and sweet, almost like honey. Better yet, it grows wild where I live.
It also tastes absolutely terrible.
I once went to a private school, and the pastor of a small church would teach Bible class every morning. One day we discussed bitterness, and someone asked for a definition. I brought some dried milfoil leaves the next day, gave some to whoever wanted some, and announced, “Bitterness is when your soul feels like this tastes.”
Because milfoil is bitter. It’s terrible. The young leaves are bearable, but the old (or dried) leaves turn your entire face into a puckered grimace. Even if you eat one dried speck, it’ll sit on your tongue and burn with the fire of a thousand Texas sunsets.
And that, my dear readers, is how Alynn managed to mess up her parsnip porridge.
What’s your favorite herb—or worst cooking failure? And do you have the boldness to share your stories in the comments below? God bless you, dear reader, and don’t forget to like us on Facebook!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.