“Patience with parsnips pays off.”
I love parsnips, especially when paired with carrots. I tend to think of them as a Fall and Winter root crop, best served in soups or roasted as a side dish to a hearty meal, which is exactly how we used them on Thanksgiving in our roasted parsnips and carrots side dish. What I didn’t know, until last week, was that many farmers overwinter their parsnips, leaving them in the ground, protected by a layer of mulch. Over winter, as the ground freezes and snow gathers above, the parsnips’ starches convert to sugar and the flesh becomes more tender.
These root vegetables are then harvested at the lowest ebb of the vegetable year, just when nearly everyone is ready for something more exciting than winter squash and apples! The spring-dug parsnip not only benefit consumers’ eager taste buds, but they also aid farmers. In The New Organic Grower, Eliot Coleman notes that a Spring parsnip crop helps to provide an income at a time when there is little else for farmers to market.
When I saw the Union Square Greenmarket report on Twitter that that Windfall Farms was selling overwintered parsnips, I rearranged my schedule to get to the market immediately. Last Wednesday, we bought a few pounds worth for a parsnip and pea shoot pasta, before returning this weekend to buy several more pounds of parsnips for a weekend dinner (recipe to come!). Upon purchase, we could smell the sweetness radiating out of the knobby, ugly roots. Mmm!
Parsnips are a member of the umbelliferae family, making it a sister or brother to carrots, chervil, parsley, fennel, celery, and celeriac.
As a fun fact, during the Middle Ages, parents gave their babies parsnips to suck on during teething.
Their sweet and earthy flavor is quite unique—it’s hard to compare it to any other vegetable. Each bite is full of buttery sweetness, with hints of honey.
In the Kitchen:
Look for heavy parsnips that you can’t easily bend. When you pick one up, you should be able to smell its sweetness. You can keep parsnips for up to a week in the refrigerator, but as is the case with most produce, try to eat them as quickly as possible.
Special Note: Cookbook authors don’t recommend boiling parsnips, as they can quickly become waterlogged. Instead, steam them or roast them. The surest way to bring out a parsnip’s flavor profile is to pair it with butter or olive oil.
Spring parsnips are planted in May or June and then simply left in the ground until the following Spring. Parsnips tend to do better in cooler climates. When overwintering these root vegetables, farmers are sure to harvest them before the new tops and seed stalks start to grow (or else the root becomes fibrous and starchy).
We challenged ourselves with the spring parsnip recipe we made this weekend. Check back soon!
Sources: Wikipedia, The Produce Bible, MaineBoats.com, Gardenhelper.com