To my surprise, parsnips are underappreciated in the culinary world. I’ve never seen them at the supermarkets I’ve been to. If they’re found in the produce section, they’re likely concealed someplace. What’s up with this? The star of the show is, without a doubt, the Parsnip, the world’s most popular vegetable.
In contrast, parsnips may be seen languishing on the back shelves and tucked away in the corners of the vegetable bins.
What’s going on here? They’re just as good as the attractive carrot, why haven’t we discovered it? Raw, roasted, or puréed, they’re just as tasty as their carroty counterparts, plus they’re packed with additional nutrients.
Unlike the potato, the parsnip has been cultivated in Europe for more than a century and a half. Native to the British Isles, Parsnip became a prominent component in a variety of dishes, from soup to marmalade to beer and wine. It might take up to 180 days for this tough, white-fleshed root vegetable to develop and is best grown and harvested in the winter months. Parsnip varieties range in number from hundreds to a few hundred, and many of them are suitable for home gardens in USDA hardiness zones 2a through 9b.
Let’s look at the different types of parsnips below.
The Harris Model
Home gardeners and commercial producers alike choose the Harris Model parsnip. It is distinguished from other cultivars by its smooth white skin, straight roots, and finer-grained meat. After 130 days, it’ll be 12 to 15 inches long. Parsnips like partial sun and moderate watering but will require shelter from the cold during the driest months. A loamy, well-drained, acidic soil is ideal for planting the Harris Model.
The All- American Parsnip
First and foremost, the All-American parsnip may be harvested in 95 days. The taste is sweet and nutty, and the flesh is soft. Late October is the optimum time to harvest the All American since it is disease resistant. If straw mulch or row coverings are used, it may be kept outside for most of the winter. Plant it in a loamy, somewhat acidic soil in partial sun and water it sparingly.
The Hollow Crown Parsnip
An English heritage parsnip variety, the Hollow Crown gets its name from the sunken, crown-like structure at the base of each leaf on an individual plant. This plant has roots that may grow up to 14 inches long and requires extensive soil tilling. Even at subzero temperatures, this parsnip grows and becomes sweeter. Germination may take up to three weeks, but the soil can be accelerated by covering it with a transparent plastic sheet and heating it. Use an acidic soil mix and water it often when you plant it from mid-October till the end of the year.
The Cobham Marrow
Cobham Marrow parsnip roots may grow up to 8 inches long in length. This is one of the tastiest parsnips, and it is most often used in sweets or brown sugar-glazed. It germinates in about three weeks and is very resistant to canker disease. Till the soil to a depth of 12 to 16 inches in plant beds. Even though it takes around 120 days for this parsnip to be ready for harvest, the taste will improve if it is left in the beds through the first severe frost.
The Student Parsnip
The Student is a mid-1850s heritage parsnip from the United States. If the plant beds are thoroughly tilled, the root may grow up to 30 inches long. After the first couple of frosts, the sweetness and mildness of the taste will develop. In order to be viable, however, it will need surface protection. Between 95 and 125 days, this parsnip will be ready to eat. It prefers partial light and moderate watering, and may be grown in containers.
Warning When Handling Parsnips
When handling parsnip plants, use gloves and protection to protect your skin from the chemical furanocoumarin, which may cause severe burns. Within 24 to 48 hours of exposure, burning, tingling, redness, and streak-like blisters may appear. If a severe rash or blisters appear, see a doctor.
Parsnips develop and grow big enough to be harvested in around 16 weeks. To guarantee the sweetest and tastiest root, it is best to expose it to cold. Pull your crop just after the first frost has passed. After a strong frost has frozen the ground, you won’t be able to collect the yield if they’re left in the ground.
Parsnip leaves may cause irritation and blisters if they come into contact with exposed skin.
Parsnips may be stored in the same way as carrots. Keep them in a cool, dark area by burying them in dry sand.
Unless you’re willing to wait until the second year, you won’t be able to keep parsnip seeds since it is a biannual.
How to Prepare Parsnips
An online cookbook club I’m a member of recently got into a debate over the difference between a parsnip and turnip. Some of us, including the original poster, had a good laugh at the blunder, which was an honest error.
Since I am not a huge lover of turnips, but I am a huge fan of parsnips, I wanted to put the record right about the confusion. The root vegetable of the cabbage family pales in comparison to its relative. However, I’ll concede that I think the rutabaga is the overall victor in the competition.
Soups and stews benefit from their inclusion. If you like, you may roast them like carrots or puree them into a smooth paste. In any recipe calling for carrots, you can easily swap in parsnips.
Health Benefits of Parsnips
Fiber, antioxidants, vitamin C, and vitamin K are all found in parsnips. Studies have shown that eating a lot of fiber-rich vegetables, such as kale, may help regulate blood sugar levels. Vitamin C, which is abundant in citrus fruits, also aids the immune system.
It may surprise you to learn that parsnips are a better source of nutrients than carrots. If you haven’t already, they’re an excellent addition to your spring garden planning.
Heirloom Parsnip Varieties: A Short History
Humans eating parsnips has been traced back to the Stone Age in Switzerland and southern Germany. As a result, botanists have encountered a conundrum since the parsnip is thought to have originated in Italy. Even if they were grown in a garden, there is little doubt that the plants of the Stone Age were collected from the wild. Throughout the Roman period, parsnips were one of the most prevalent root vegetables in kitchen gardens because of their versatility. As a result, the plant’s history is compounded by the fact that classic and mediaeval writers sometimes used the names pastinaca and carota interchangeably, making it impossible to tell which one they were referring to.
One of the raised beds at the Swiss monastery of St. Gall’s garden is plainly named pastinacbus, although this might also signify white carrots, according to an A.D. 820 parchment of the garden layout. French records from 1393 and 1473 indicate that parsnips were grown there. To remove the murkiness, parsnips were treated with herbals alone, thus the typical features were gradually shown.
Short parsnips with turnip roots, known as noisette Lisbonaise and yellow-rooted Siam parsnip, and long smooth parsnips, called coquaine in France, were all grown in Europe by the middle of the nineteenth century. Both the first and the last were created in France, with the first being a Dutch invention. France, Germany and Central Europe were previously home to a great variety of these plants. Today, England and France are the primary producers of parsnips.
The popularity of the parsnip in the United States has waned since the colonial era, when it was a popular vegetable. In several places of the nation, parsnips introduced here by English immigrants in the 1600s have escaped and became naturalized. It’s an issue for seed savers since these wild parsnips will cross with the farmed ones and degenerate the cultivated ones, but they’re also good for breeding new types, as seen by the success of The Student, a famous Victorian parsnip that was developed in England from a wild parsnip rescued from the Cotswolds.
There aren’t many unique kinds included in early American seed catalogs. This kind of coquaine was available to Shakers in 1843, and it was the most prevalent variety farmed in this nation. There were a few more on the list, according to Fearing Burr, but none of them were common in the United States. In 1826, the Guernsey (French panais long) was imported to England, but it has never thrived here. As a result of its popularity among home gardeners in the United States, the Hollow Crown, which dates back to the early 1820s, is one of my personal favorites. For the average home grower, I’d recommend just The Student and the Hollow Crown as heritage varieties. In a small garden, either one or the other would be sufficient due to their similarity in flavor and texture when cooked. However, I’d put both to the test to see how they respond to the soil before deciding.
Early spring is the best time to sow parsnips since the cold ground helps the seeds come back to life after a long period of dormancy. Fresh seed has long been known to produce the largest roots, so if at all possible, plant the bud as soon as it has finished maturing on the plants. Seed has a one-year viability period, so only use bud that is clearly labeled as “dated” and “unquestionably new.” There is no point in storing bud beyond what is required for immediate use.
A great 1 1/2 to 2 feet of elbow room in all ways is required for parsnips’ large tops. Roots will be enormous and flavorful if plants are spaced this far apart. If you plant your parsnip seeds closer together than the recommended 6-inch distance, you’ll get a carrot-like parsnip. The smaller parsnips are preferred by many people over the larger ones. The size of the harvest can be greatly influenced by cultural technique, which I believe is an important consideration. Parsnips, in contrast to carrots, can be left in the earth throughout the winter. Many cooks believe that the flavor is at its peak in the early spring, when the ground thaws, after the frost has nipped the tops of the plants. Roots are unaffected by freezing. If you need to dig them up, it’s much easier if you cover them with straw. Alternately, you can dig up your roots in the fall and keep them refrigerated in damp sand. The roots become pithy as the plants start to grow the next year and cannot be used in cooking. To prevent blown-over seed heads, stake the plants as soon as they bolt and begin to blossom. Carrot seed is harvested and dried in the same way.
There’s a reason why parsnip greens aren’t sold with the roots in markets: the fluid that comes out of their leaves causes severe skin rashes in many individuals. Always use gloves and wash your hands completely before touching your face or eyes while picking parsnips.
During the Victorian era, muffins and tiny breads made with Hollow Crown and another ancient kind known as sugar parsnip were popular teatime treats. Instructions for making this dish may be found in Hannah Bouvier Peterson’s National Cookbook (1855), recipe number 167. As a cupcake in form, but with a more English muffin-like feel, it was referred to as a “cake.”