Eat that parsley sprig on your plate? Why not?

My dinner companion in the tony restaurant looks on - appalled - as I lift the sprig of parsley from my plate to my lips, and with my fingers, no less.

"What's the problem?" I ask before I indulge.

"You don't really eat the parsley, do you?"

I not only eat it, I relish it - no pun intended. Too often in restaurants these days parsley is replaced on plates by a sullen clump of kale. But then I have been prejudiced against kale ever since a long-ago landlady claimed that eating cooked kale was like eating blankets. Taking her word for it, I also avoid the fresh version, which looks unapproachable and inedible as a garnish.

At least it isn't my picking up the parsley sprig with my fingers that has brought on the reproach of my dining companion. Somewhat self- consciously I proceed to enjoy the crisp texture and lively green flavor - pure essence of chlorophyll.

I also wonder if anyone has invented a stylish parsley sorbet to cleanse the sauce-sated palate. Perhaps that will be my culinary calling on a winter's day when I don't want to go out into the cold.

Back in my kitchen, I think of zingy fresh parsley as I open a jar of dried parsley flakes and sprinkle them into a white sauce to put over sliced hard-boiled eggs on toast. The addition is almost automatic, and I suddenly ask myself why I'm doing it.

The scent of commercially dried parsley flakes has always puzzled me. It's heavy, moist, and strangely reminiscent of a stable. Now is the time for a long-overdue taste test: I heat a cup of water in a small pan and generously sprinkle the dried flakes into it. Once the brew has cooled and infused, I try it. Uf! I immediately pour the tasteless and colorless concoction down the drain.

That involuntary "uf" has, however, set memory to work. It's a good Danish expression, and it takes me back to the fields of parsley behind the farmhouse that I rented in Denmark one autumn. It was in a country village an hour or so south of Copenhagen - the village consisting of only a church, a crossroads, and a convenience store at the commuter train stop.

The house was typical of many in the Danish countryside: steeply sloping thatched roof, pink hollyhocks standing against white stucco walls, window frames of deep blue, and terra cotta-tile floors inside.

Everything in view from the house was once a noble estate whose green fields, orchards, and herds had guaranteed self- sufficiency. But by the time I arrived, the plots on the long country road were just large enough for a few farm animals, a kitchen garden, apple trees, wild rosebushes, and rampant elderberry shrubs.

Most of the neighbors were gentleman-farmers who commuted daily by train to offices in the city, leaving their wives to tend children, gardens, and livestock during the week. Their own contact with the earth - and motorized tools - waited for the weekend.

One day, as my landlord - a friend from the church I attended - and I drove back from a morning's shopping in the city, we found that the fields behind our narrow road and the houses had just been harvested and plowed.

It was probably none too soon: Across the blue waters of the sound, just to the south of Sweden, a huge bank of white clouds - borne on chill winds from far Kaliningrad and drawing moisture from their Baltic crossing - appeared, threatening an early winter.

But round about us, acres of brown sod were still dotted with emerald patches of persille. They called out to be gleaned before the coming precipitation.

So, as the shadows lengthened and the day grew chill, we picked.

When we finally hobbled into Oliver's kitchen, we were laden with two full bushel baskets of parsley. Then we both started to laugh: What were we going to do with it?

In the rustic, low-beamed kitchen, with its long wooden trestle table and benches, there was neither fancy food processor nor sufficient freezer space for that much parsley. So one of us located a large ball of twine, and we spent the evening tying up bunches of parsley and hanging them from the low ceiling beams to dry.

Later we enjoyed a few sprigs of fresh parsley with our supper of homemade soup, cheese, and freshly baked rye bread.

Early the next morning, we packed up a van and headed south to Italy, where we both had professional engagements.

It's now some years later, and I'm back in the US. As I finish my dried parsley experiment, I find myself wondering what ever happened to all that lovely Danish parsley.

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