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Thirty years ago, I barely knew parsley. It was a sprig that garnished plates in restaurants, usually along with a thin slice of lemon, or maybe minced and sprinkled on a baked potato.
I knew it was available in little bunches in the produce section, but I never thought of buying it. It was also found in the spice section dried, and I didn't buy it there, either.
Then one day another young college professor and his wife invited us for dinner. They lived in a little rented house in northeast close-in Austin, not more than a couple of miles from where we lived on Caswell Avenue.
These people were not at all involved in gardening, but I always want to know what's outside, so we went out back to see their yard.
It was a good-sized plain backyard of grass. In the middle was a rectangle lined with landscaping timbers. As people used to do back then, the previous tenant had put in a small raised vegetable garden.
"What is that," I wanted to know. Parsley, I was told, left over from the garden that was otherwise long gone. It had volunteered to grow from seed.
This was flat-leaf, also known as plain or Italian parsley, and it grew with joyous, rampant abandon, surging up in bloom, toppling of its own weight and lodging over the margins onto the grass. It was beautiful! I had no idea.
It was some time before I grew my own, but since I've lived out here on Pommel, I have usually had some parsley going. It peaks in late winter-early spring alongside the dill and cilantro.
I never give it a proper bed, and when I sow the seed I promptly forget about it. It takes weeks to germinate, and then it starts out slow. Sometimes it comes up, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it comes up long after I've planted it, maybe even the next year.
It is a biennial, which means it lives two years and blooms the second year. The flowers are the same rich green as the glossy leaves.
It welcomes sun but lives in shade as well. It doesn't need much help. I have never watered it or cultivated it in any way.
You can put out little plants, too, and leave them to fend for themselves. When I planted the bed by the street, I put a dozen little parsley plants under the elm in the worst spot. The first night, the deer clipped every one of them right down to the ground.
I thought, That was dumb. I should have known the deer would like it. But it came back, bloomed, and then came back again from seed! There are volunteers in the crushed granite driveway now.
Curly parsley is a little harder to grow from seed, in my experience, but the little plants do just as well.
A true culinary herb, parsley is one of those that you can eat all you want of (as opposed to medicinal herbs, which can be dangerous in quantity). In fact, I've been reading lately that it's good to give your dog a little chopped parsley in his dinner.
Once, during my restaurant years, one of the cooks on a whim made a parsley soup. She made it like a vichycoise, with potatoes and leeks and milk. She buzzed up the parsley, and I think she must not have cooked the soup after she added the parsley, because the soup was bright green.
None of this soup reached the customers. We all ate every drop ourselves. I could not stop eating it. I have made parsley soup since then, and although it is always delicious, I have never made it quite as well as that cook did that day so many years ago. It was one of those dishes you spend the rest of your life trying to re-create.
And don't forget tabouli! That's another dish green with parsley: cook up some cous cous, finely chop tomatoes, mince a pile of parsley and mix it all up with olive oil and lemon.
But even if you don't eat it, look how beautiful it is, thriving unassisted in a far corner of the yard.
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