A Parsnip Stew by Mary E. Wilkins
Ruth stood by with a dish and spoon, while
her mother stirred the stew carefully to be sure
that it was not burning on the bottom of the kettle.
Her sister Serena was paring apples and playing
with the cat, and her father and her uncles
Caleb and Silas sat before the fire smoking, sniffing
the stew, and watching solemnly. The uncles
had just come in, and proposed staying to dinner.
Mrs. Whitman squinted anxiously at the stew
as she stirred it. She feared that there was not
enough for dinner, now there were two more to
"I'm dreadful afraid there ain't enough of
that stew to go round," she whispered to Ruth
in the pantry.
"Oh, I guess it'll do," said Ruth.
"Well, I dun know about it. Your father an'
Caleb an' Silas are dreadful fond of parsnip stew,
an' I do hate to have 'em stinted."
"Well, I won't take any," said Ruth. "I
don't care much about it."
"Well, I don't want a mouthful," rejoined her
mother. "Mebbe we can make it do. Caleb an'
Silas don't have a good hot dinner very often,
an' I do want them to have enough, anyway."
Caleb and Silas Whitman were old bachelors,
living by themselves in the old Whitman homestead
about a mile away, and their fare was understood
to be forlorn and desultory. To-day
they watched with grave complacency while
their sister-in-law cooked the stew.
Over on the other side of the kitchen the table
was set out with the pewter plates and the
blue dishes. The stew was almost done, Mrs.
Whitman was just about to dip out the slices of
pork into the dish that Ruth held, when there
was a roll of wheels out in the yard, and a great
shadow passed over the kitchen floor.
"Mother, it's the Wigginses!" said Ruth, in a
"Good gracious!" sighed her mother; "they've
come to dinner."
Everybody stared for a second; then Mrs.
Whitman recovered herself. "Father, you go
out an' help them put the horse up. Don't sit
there any longer."
Then she threw open the door, and thrust her
large handsome face out into the rain. "Why,
how do you do, Mis' Wiggins?" said she, and she
"A PARSNIP STEW"
The wagon looked full of faces. On the front
seat were a large man and two little boys; out
of the gloom in the rear peered two women and a
little girl. They were Mr. Wiggins, his wife and
three children, and his mother. They were distant
relatives of Mrs. Whitman's; they often came
over to spend the day, and always unannounced.
Mr. Whitman came out clumsily and opened
the barn doors, and Mr. Wiggins led the horse
into the barn. "I hope you 'ain't got wet," Mrs.
Whitman said. Nothing could have exceeded
her cordiality; but all the time she was thinking
of the parsnip stew, and how it surely would
not go around now.
Ruth had not followed the others out to greet
the guests. She stayed by the kettle and stirred
the stew, and scowled. "I think it's downright
mean for folks to come in this way, just dinner-time,"
said she to the uncles, who had not left
their chairs. And they gave short grunts which
expressed their assent, for neither of them liked
They watched soberly as Ruth stirred the
stew, but they did not dream that there was not
enough to go around.
When her mother and the guests entered,
Ruth turned around and bobbed her head stiffly,
and said, "Pretty well, thank you," and then
stirred again. Serena helped the Wigginses
take off their things. She untied old Mrs. Wiggins's
pumpkin hood, and got her cap out of her
cap basket and put it on for her. She also took
off little Mary Wiggins's coat, and set her in a
little child's arm-chair and gave her a kiss. Little
Mary Wiggins, with her sober, chubby face
and her rows of shiny brown curls, in her best
red frock and her scalloped pantalets, was noticed
admiringly by everybody but Ruth.
As soon as she could Ruth cornered her mother
in the pantry. "Mother, what are you going
to do?" said she.
"I'm goin' to do jest the best I can," she whispered,
severely. "I'm goin' to tell father an'
Caleb an' Silas they mustn't take none of that
stew; they can have some bread an' apple-sauce.
I guess they'll git along."
"Well, I don't care," said Ruth, in a loud voice.
"I think it's mean and a downright imposition
on folks, coming in this way, just dinner-time."
"Ruth Whitman, if you care anything about
me, you'll keep still. Now you get the salt-cup
an' go out there, an' put some more salt in that
stew. It tasted dreadful flat, I thought. I jest
tasted of it when they drove in. I've got to get
out the other knives."
Ruth caught up a cup with a jerk. "Well,
how much shall I put in?" she inquired, sulkily.
"Oh, quite a lot. You can tell. It was dreadful
flat. Taste of it."
But Ruth did not taste of it. She scattered
the contents of the cup liberally into the stew,
gave it a stir, returned to the pantry, and set the
cup down hard. "Well," said she, "I've put it
in, and now I'm goin'."
"Ruth Whitman, you ain't goin' off to school
without any dinner."
"I don't see as there is anything for dinner but
bread and apple-sauce, and I'm sure I don't want
"I should think you'd be ashamed of yourself,
"I think there are other folks that ought to be
ashamed of themselves. Before I'd go into folk's
houses that way—"
"Ruth Whitman, they'll hear you!"
"I don't care if they do. I've got to go, anyway.
It's late. I couldn't stop for dinner now
if I wanted to."
She went through the kitchen, where Serena
now tended the stew, only stopping to take her
shawl off the peg.
"Why, you going?" Serena called after her.
"I've got to; it's late," replied Ruth, shortly.
She faced about for a second and gave a stiff
nod, which seemed directed at the stew-kettle
rather than at the Wigginses. "Good-bye," said
she. Then she went out.
It was raining with a hard, steady drizzle.
Ruth had no rubbers nor water-proof—they were
not yet invented. She sped along through the
rain and mist. She had to walk half a mile to
the little house where she taught the district
school, and before she got there she felt calmer.
"I suppose I was silly to act so mad," she said
to herself. "I know it plagued mother."
It was early in the spring; the trees were
turning green in the rain. Over in the field she
could see one peach-tree in blossom, showing
pink through the mist. "I suppose Mr. Wiggins
couldn't work out to-day, and that's how they
happened to come. They could have the horse.
But they ought to have come earlier," reflected
Ruth. "There are a good many of 'em for Mrs.
Wiggins to get ready," mused Ruth. "There's
old Mrs. Wiggins and Johnny and Sammy and
Mary and Mr. Wiggins."
By the time Ruth was seated at her table in
the school-room, and the scholars were wriggling
and twisting before her on their wooden benches,
she saw the matter quite plainly from the Wiggins
side. She made up her mind that she would
behave just as well as she knew how to the
Wigginses when she got home. She planned
how she would swing little Mary out in the barn
and play with the boys, and how she would
help her mother get tea.
When school was done and Ruth started for
home the rain had stopped and the sun was shining.
The rain-pools in the road glittered, and
she noticed a cherry-tree in blossom. When she
reached home Serena met her at the door.
"Oh, Ruth Whitman!" she cried, "we have had
such a time!"
Ruth stared. "What do you mean?" said she.
"Where are the Wigginses?"
"They've gone. Mrs. Wiggins and old Mrs.
Wiggins were dreadful mad. Oh, Ruth, you
didn't do it on purpose, did you?"
"Do what on purpose?" said Ruth, pushing
into the house, and looking around the empty
kitchen in a bewildered way. "I don't know
what you mean."
"Don't you know what you put into that parsnip
"No; I don't know of anything I put in but
some salt, just before I went to school; mother
told me to. Why?"
"Oh, Ruth, you put in—saleratus!"
"I don't believe it."
Ruth flew into the pantry, and came out with
a cracked blue cup. "Here," said she—"here's
the salt-cup, and this is the one I got it out of, I
"Taste of it," said Serena, solemnly.
Ruth tasted. "It is saleratus," said she, looking
at her sister in horror. "Did it spoil the
"I don't see how it happened," Ruth said,
slowly, puckering her forehead, "unless mother
dipped out some saleratus in the salt-cup to
bring out in the kitchen when she mixed the
sour-milk cakes for breakfast. I don't know anything
about it, true's I live and breathe. I
hope they didn't think I did such a mean thing
as that on purpose."
"Well, I don't know as they really thought
you did, but you know you did kind of jerk
round, Ruth, and the Wigginses saw it."
"What did they say?"
"Well," said Serena, "we all sat down to the
table, and mother had put on the bread and apple-sauce
for the rest of us, and she helped the
Wigginses to the stew. There wasn't more'n
enough to go around, but she kept the cover over
the dish so they shouldn't suspect, and all the
rest of us said we wouldn't take any.
"Well, Mrs. Wiggins she tasted, and old Mrs.
Wiggins she tasted. Then they looked at mother.
Mother she didn't know what it meant, and
she kept getting redder and redder. Finally she
spoke up. 'Is there anything the matter with
the stew?' says she.
"Then Mrs. Wiggins she pushed over her plate
for mother to taste of the stew, and the first
thing we knew they were all talking at once.
Old Mrs. Wiggins said she'd noticed how we
acted kind of stiff, and as if we wasn't glad to
see them, the minute she come, and Mrs. Wiggins
said she had, too, and she'd seen you put the saleratus
into the stew, and she thought from the
way you switched around you were up to something.
Mother she tried to excuse it off, but they
wouldn't hear a word. They said it didn't look
very likely that it was an accident, and they
noticed none of us took any of it, and mother
wouldn't tell them the reason for that. So they
just got up and put on their things, and Mr. Wiggins
backed out the horse, and they went home.
Mother asked them to come again, and she'd try
and have a better dinner, but they said they'd
never set foot in the house again if they knew it."
"Didn't anybody eat the stew?"
"Nobody but Sammy Wiggins; he ate his
whole plateful, saleratus and all, before anybody
"Oh dear!" said Ruth; "I suppose mother
feels dreadfully. Where is she?"
"She's gone over to Lucy Ann's to help her
take care of the baby; he was real sick last
night. I don't believe she'll come home till
after supper. She felt dreadful."
"The Wigginses are dreadful touchy folks,
"Course they are. It don't seem as if anybody
with any sense would get mad at such a
thing. But they're always suspecting folks of
Ruth looked sternly reflective. She took off
her thick dingy shawl, and got from its peg a
bright red and green plaid one that she wore in
"Where are you going?" asked Serena.
"I'm going over to the Wigginses'."
"I'm going to ask them to come over here to-morrow
and spend the day."
"Why, Ruth Whitman, ain't you afraid to?"
"No, I ain't afraid. I'm going to carry over
a jar of the honey—mother 'll be willing—and
I'm going to tell Mrs. Wiggins just how it was."
"She won't hear a word you say."
"I'll make her hear."
"They won't come a step."
The Whitmans kept bees, and their honey was
the celebrated luxury of the neighborhood. Ruth
got a jar of clear white honey out of the closet,
put it under her shawl, and was off. First,
though, she instructed Serena to go out in the
garden and dig a good supply of parsnips and
clean them for the next day's dinner.
It was a mile to the Wigginses', and it took
Ruth over an hour to accomplish her errand and
return. When she got home she found Serena
getting supper, and her father was washing his
hands out in the shed; her mother had not returned.
On the kitchen sink lay a tin pan with
four or five muddy parsnips. Serena looked up
eagerly when her sister entered. "They coming?"
"Yes, they are," replied Ruth, with a triumphant
But Serena walked over to the sink and extended
her arm with a tragical gesture towards
the parsnips. "Well, you've gone and done it
now, Ruth Whitman," said she. "There's every
single parsnip that's fit to eat that I could find
in the garden."
"H'm! I guess I can find some."
"No, you can't; they've rotted. I heard mother
say to-day she was afraid they had. More'n
half those father brought in this morning weren't
good for anything. When mother finds out that
all the Wigginses are coming, and there's just five
parsnips for dinner, I don't know what she will
do; I don't know but it will kill her. And she's
asked Uncle Caleb and Uncle Silas over, too."
Ruth gave a desperate glance at the parsnips.
"I said we were going to have parsnip stew,"
said she, "Mrs. Wiggins had been crying; she
looked dreadful tired out; and Sammy had just
bumped his head, and there was a great lump
over one eye. She took the honey, and said
she'd be real happy to come if they could have
the horse, and old Mrs. Wiggins acted dreadful
"The Wigginses have got parsnips," said Serena.
"I heard Mrs. Wiggins say they'd got a
splendid lot, she expected, but they hadn't dug
Ruth looked at her sister. "Serena!"
"I'm going to send over and buy some of the
"Ruth!" But it seemed to Serena as if there
was a flash of red and green light through the
room, and Ruth had gone. Serena gave a little
gasp, and stood looking.
"What's the matter?" asked her father, coming
in—an old man in checkered shirt sleeves,
yet with a certain rustic stateliness about him.
"Oh, nothing," said Serena; and she fell to
slicing the bread for supper.
While her father had gone to the well to
draw a pail of water Ruth came in, breathless,
but rosy with daring and triumph. Ben White,
Mrs. White's grown-up son, was going to drive
over to the Wigginses and buy some parsnips;
his mother was to have some, and Ruth a noble
portion for the next day's stew.
Serena dropped into a chair and giggled feebly;
the humor, of it was so forcible that it
seemed to fairly rebound in her face. "Ask the
Wigginses to dinner to have a parsnip stew, and
then—buy their own parsnips for it!" she gasped.
Ruth did not laugh at all; she saw nothing
but the seriousness of the situation. "Mind you
don't tell mother till after it's all over," said she.
"I don't want her to know where those parsnips
came from till after the Wigginses have gone,
she'll be so upset. I'm just going to tell her
how I carried the honey over there, and how
they're coming. I do hope Ben will bring the
parsnips before mother gets home."
"Suppose Ben should bring 'em in when mother
was here," chuckled Serena.
"I told him to shy into the shed with 'em,"
replied Ruth, severely. "Hush! father's coming,
and we'd better not say anything to him till
Mrs. Whitman did not return until quite late;
her married daughter Lucy Ann and her teething
baby did not generally release her in very
good season. When she came into the kitchen
she found a great pan of parsnips all washed
and scraped, and heard the news how the Wigginses
were over their ill-tempers and were coming
the next day. Mrs. Whitman dropped into
a chair, her large mild face beamed, and tears
stood in her eyes. "Well, I'm dreadful glad if
we can patch it up," said she; "I never had any
fuss with any of my folks before in the world,
and I hate to begin now. I've always thought
a good deal of the Wigginses." And her mouth
The next morning a parsnip stew of noble proportions
was prepared. At eleven o'clock the
great kettle, full to the rim, hung over the fire,
and the room was cloudy with savory steam.
The Wigginses were expected every minute.
Uncles Silas and Caleb Whitman could be seen
from the kitchen window out in the field with
their brother bending over the plough furrows,
and they kept righting themselves and looking
at their old silver watches. At half-past eleven
Mrs. Whitman and Serena began to think it was
strange that the Wigginses did not come. At
quarter of twelve there was a little stir out in
the yard, and they ran to the windows. There
was Mr. Wiggins with a wheelbarrow and an
empty grain sack and a half-bushel basket of
russet apples in it.
Mrs. Whitman and Serena stood wonderingly
in the door. "Where's the folks?" asked Mrs.
Then Mr. Wiggins, standing by the wheelbarrow,
explained how Hiram Green had had to
use the horse for ploughing up in the six-acre
lot, how he had promised to hire it to him, and
his wife hadn't known it, and how he had had
to go to the store for grain with the wheelbarrow,
and his wife had got him to stop and tell
Mis' Whitman she was dreadfully sorry it happened
so, but she didn't see how they could
walk, and they would come over the first day
they could have the horse; and she didn't know
but what Mis' Whitman's apples had give out,
so she sent her over a few of their russets; they
had 'most two barrels left, and they were spoiling
fast, and they wanted to get rid of them.
When Ruth came home from school she found
an immense kettle of parsnip stew, her father
and her uncles Silas and Caleb again forming a
pleasant expectant semicircle before the fire, but
no Wigginses. To-day the stew was seasoned
daintily, and salt had taken the place of saleratus.
There was no stint as to quantity, but there
were not enough partakers. Mrs. Whitman filled
a great bowl for Lucy Ann; she sent a dish
over to the Whites; father and Caleb and Silas
ate manfully, and passed their plates again and
again; Serena and Ruth and their mother ate all
they could, and the cat had her fill; but the
Whitmans, with all their allies, could not eat
their own share and that of the Wigginses. But
the stew was delicious, and as the family ate,
their simple homely little feud was healed, and
the parsnip stew smoked in their midst like a
pipe of peace.