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Name that veggie

Yesterday I was in line at the grocery store watching the cashier check out my items. The teenage clerk with slicked-back black hair picked up a clear bag containing my produce and looked for the sticker code on the item. She turned the bag all around and then asked, “What is this?”

“It’s a parsnip,” I replied proudly like a two-year-old at a pond who had just learned the word “duck.”

“A what?” the clerk replied.

“A pars-nip,” I enunciated more loudly over the background noise of the supermarket.

The clerk started searching the plastic-coated produce sheet which contained item codes looking for the right number to punch in. A burly, man who appeared to be her manager happened to walk by.

“Hey, Dave, how do I enter this in?” she asked him.

Dave stopped mid-stride and approached the register. He looked at me and asked, “What is that?”

“A parsnip,” I said for the third time.

“Parsley?” Dave asked. Granted, I’d only been able to identify the thing for a month, but in what universe could a big, white carrot be mistaken for a leafy, green garnish?

“A pars-nip,” I repeated. The clerk eventually entered in the correct item code. I left the grocery store wondering when I became the vegetable guru. I wish there were a game show called “Name that Veggie” because I would obviously stand a good chance of winning. Maybe the prize could be a lifetime supply of rutabaga, but only if you were able to identify it.

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34 Comments

Marla • June 27, 2007 at 7:57 am

Hee. I’ve also been in the position of having to answer “I don’t know,” because I picked an unknown vegetable at random to experiment with.

For some reason, the most difficult one to explain is “poblano peppers.” I have to say it over and over, and spell it several times, and then it’s hit-or-miss.

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Amy • June 27, 2007 at 8:27 am

i bought the world’s smallest green cabbage this weekend. she mis-entered the code for my garlic and it rang up at 6 cents. hear no evil, see no evil…

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Melissa • June 27, 2007 at 8:36 am

Celeriac is something new to me. Only saw it for the first time this year but have yet to try. Swedes are another thing that I have tried for the first time recently. I don’t recommend them, though – texture of a potato, but tastes of sour kraut. Blech.

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melsky • June 27, 2007 at 9:00 am

That happens to me every time I buy endive.

I totally recommend endive, it’s a stiff leafed lettuce that is great for dipping.

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Her Grace • June 27, 2007 at 9:14 am

This is hilarious, but as someone who has herself just become acquainted with parsnips and some of the lesser known veggies, I understand.

Whenever I pick up the veggie sushi at my local store, the clerks raise their eyebrows. “Is that stuff good?” they’ll ask. I always say, “Delicious.”

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marygrace • June 27, 2007 at 9:40 am

this happens to me frequently, most often with different types of mushrooms.

also, i remember an entry from not too long ago where you mentioned that your kickboxing class had ended, and you were planning on taking up tennis lessons. have you started them yet? i find racket sports of all sorts to be really fun, and was thinking of maybe taking up some tennis lessons myself.

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PastaQueen • June 27, 2007 at 9:46 am

marygrace – My lessons start in the middle of July. I’d originally scheduled them for the beginning of June, but move them once I scheduled my LASIK for this month. I didn’t want anyone to start throwing fuzzy, green balls at my eyes until they’d had a month to heal :)

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Zanitta • June 27, 2007 at 10:43 am

that’s quite strange, I would understand if you had some far out there never heard of veg, but isn’t parsnip pretty common?

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Incredible Me • June 27, 2007 at 11:07 am

Isn’t it funny.

I get the same thing when I buy fennel, but what makes it funnier is I often have the same check out clerk.

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Carrie • June 27, 2007 at 12:27 pm

So are parsnip good? I’m scared to get them even though Jamie Oliver cooks them a lot.

I always, always, ALWAYS have to explain what pecans are at our local Safeway. So very weird. Who doesn’t know what a pecan is?

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Mary • June 27, 2007 at 12:29 pm

A similar thing happened to my mother once that we still laugh about. She was buying asparagus probably 20 years ago–before it was quite as popular a vegetable as it is today. The cashier didn’t know what it was and Mom told her it was asparagus. The cashier wanted to know if that started with an “a” or an “s”.

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Kimberly • June 27, 2007 at 1:20 pm

I eat radishes now. My mom is so proud. =P

Lost five pounds this last week!

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Kery • June 27, 2007 at 1:51 pm

I got the same reaction with kohlrabi. But I had to admit it IS a funny-looking veggie.

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G.G. • June 27, 2007 at 1:56 pm

My WTF? veggies are brussel sprouts (which are great roasted ala Ina Garten btw)–I always have to show the clerks where they are on the roly-price thingy:-)

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Jen Mathis • June 27, 2007 at 2:38 pm

I might be able to identify one, but I wouldn’t know what to do with it once I got it home!

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GroovyBabe • June 27, 2007 at 3:00 pm

I had a similar experience with an advocado the other day, it was hilarious!

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JEM • June 27, 2007 at 6:04 pm

There are so many delicious veggies and fruits that are over looked in the produce department…I bet you can have your own little game called Stump the cashier every time you shop!! :-)

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Kilmeny • June 27, 2007 at 6:54 pm

I’m pretty sure I got tomatillos for free at the store once because the cashier could not figure out the correct code no matter how many times I told her what they were. I get the “what is this?” question all the time, when buying groceries.

Kilmeny

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starbird • June 27, 2007 at 7:46 pm

Out here on the West Coast our cashiers are pretty hip to most of the newer veggies.

Tomatillos and poblano chiles aren’t too hard because of our large Hispanic population, but I still have a hard time when I ask for borage, arugula (I admit I had to look up how to pronounce it) and raddichio. The latter two are Italian greens, often found as roadside weeds in Italy.

Arugula is called rocket in some other culture – nobody calls it that here, though. I agree Stump the cashier is fun.

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renee in GA • June 27, 2007 at 9:53 pm

Hi, I’m new here, and enjoying reading. Just wanted to say a quick thank you to starbird! I had a rocket salad in London that was fab but I never knew what was in it. It’s funny how it’s harder to recognize an otherwise familiar taste when you don’t know the name for it.

I have never tried parsnips – maybe next week, after I have cooked the yuca in my fridge (the cashier gave me quite the stink eye at that one!).

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origamifreak • June 27, 2007 at 10:35 pm

Regarding your question about about what else a white carrot could be, I suppose you could mistake a daikon radish for a parsnip, if it were smallish…

Of course, whole daikon are not likely to be found in non-Asian supermarkets! :-)

Speaking of obscure veggies, If anyone on here has tried Rat-tail Radish, I’ll be Very Impressed. :-)

By the way, I discovered that Tanita makes %fat scales that go up to 330. I just got one, and saved 20% at drugstore.com… I’m glad I won’t have to wait until under 300 to use it!

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Sayre • June 27, 2007 at 10:36 pm

I have that problem with various squashes. The checkers don’t seem to know what a spagetti squash or an acorn squash is. I can’t be the only person buying these things!

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Greg Todd • June 27, 2007 at 11:48 pm

Wow! You’re almost there. What an impressive accomplishment.

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chris H • June 27, 2007 at 11:53 pm

Parsnips are yuk big time, I don’t know anyone who eats them…. yikes .. yes I do! YOU!!! Do tell how you cooked it … and was it yum???

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KrisR • June 28, 2007 at 2:09 am

Just wanted to say thanks for this blog. When I have moments of frustration and exasperation and think I just want to give up and have a food fix/binge, I log on and read something from your archives. It always keeps me going.

My latest supermarket veggie experience was with beets. A gal wanted to know if I was making a beet salad and when I replied that I roasted it, she said she’d never heard of doing that to a beet before.

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gill • June 28, 2007 at 6:14 am

hehe “pars-nip”, slowly and clearly now!!

you just reminded me of the time I had to explain how you tell the difference between a nectarine and an apple to a supermarket tiller once. I know they’re the same colour (sort of) but please…I should have kept my mouth shut though, the apples were from a local orchard and the nectarines from Brazil or somewhere tropical and about 6 times the price.

you should mount a “know your veggies” campaign

PQ.

xox

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Sarah • June 28, 2007 at 6:29 am

Since moving abroad I have discovered an array of new fruits and veggies. Unfortunately I only know the Dutch or Turkish name for some of them so I still would be lost buying them in the US!

I love “stump the cashier”. I had one once that asked me if my cabbage was a cabbage or was it lettuce. Doh!

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kathy • June 28, 2007 at 9:10 am

Here in Mexico we use poblano chiles, avocados, and tomatillos daily. Seriously, today I’m off to the mercado for all THREE of those!

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a parsnip down here, though carrots all through Mexico are so sweet and tender (raw) I have to wonder what is being grown up nawth.

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Mymsie • June 28, 2007 at 10:35 am

Heee – sounds like some pretty bright grocery staff. I guess I only know what a parsnip is because my Dad used to tease my brother and I about making silly stuff for dinner, like parsnips or kumkwats. [Yes, my family is weird!]

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shelly • June 28, 2007 at 4:19 pm

You must have been at Marsh….I have had full blown scandles over artichokes and seseame oil!

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Renee' • June 28, 2007 at 8:31 pm

If you really want to get one over on the cashier and be the real Vege Guru, then learn the codes for all the vegetables. No matter which store you shop in they are the same. If you get organic veges just add a 9 in front of the 4 digit #. I have worked at a grocery store for 10 years now and I still can’t remember them all…and I am now the manager. LOL

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K • June 29, 2007 at 3:27 pm

I could identify rutabaga and know what to do with it…

It’s called swede in England and turnip (or neeps) in Scotland and you boil it, mash it or cube it, and eat it with haggis.

Or not at all, if you prefer.

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Andrea • June 30, 2007 at 7:10 am

I worked at a grocery store as a cashier for a microsecond. Part of our training was to be able to identify random fruits and veggies. Apparently, that isn’t the case with all stores. Tee hee. :)

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ellie • January 30, 2010 at 4:57 am

thats weird i first had parsnip when i was a small child with a sunday roast. Maybe it is more common in Australia or something

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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