The Benefits of Growing Parsnips

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PHOTO: FOTOLIA/FOTOGAL
Parsnips are rich in minerals and vitamins ... especially vitamin C. Try some parsnip recipes that will have you craving more!

“Parsnips … ugh!”

There’s something about the very word “parsnip” that can
shrivel the taste buds of a generation raised on TV
dinners. And I’ll admit that the way in which this root
vegetable is traditionally served (boiled and buttered)
seems to please more adult than juvenile palates.

But parsnips can be so much more! Soups and stews, for
instance. French fries. Pancakes. Pies. Even flaming
desserts! As I’ll prove before this article is finished.

Growing Parsnips

Parsnips are a “full season” crop (the roots take about 130
days to reach full maturity) and do best when planted
sometime between early spring and early summer. I like to
put mine in my garden’s border rows … where they’re out
of the way as my family harvests faster-growing produce in
the rest of the vegetable patch and sows second crops in
its place.

Sprinkle your parsnip seeds out very thinly and about
one-half inch deep in rows spaced two feet apart. Then,
when the plants are three inches tall, thin them until they
stand five inches from each other in the rows. (These are
average “common sense” distances that should guarantee
success for almost any first-time parsnip grower. I have,
however, grown superior parsnips spaced only three inches
apart in rows separated by just eighteen inches.)

The best parsnips are smooth-skinned and tender, and have a
sweet flavor. And the keys to making yours grow up that way
are rich soil, and ample and consistent
moisture.

Parsnips require plenty of moisture all the time and the
surest way to turn your roots into a woody, fibrous,
malformed crop is by allowing the earth around them to
become dry for even short periods of time.

But then, of course, there’s no real need for your parsnip
patch to dry out. Not when it’s so easy to keep it
consistently moist with a thick layer of leaves, weeds,
grass cuttings, straw, hay, or other organic mulch. Even a
heavy carpet of newspapers or magazines weighted down
between the rows with stones will do the trick.

How to Harvest and Store Parsnips

Your roots may be added to soups and stews as soon as they
attain a reasonable size. Freezing, however, greatly
improves both the flavor and texture of the vegetable and
brings out its sweetness and aromatic characteristic.

Before the ground freezes, then, you should dig only as
many parsnips as you’ll want to use during the main part of
the winter. When washed and wrapped whole in anything (say,
waxed paper) that conserves their moisture, these roots
will keep for weeks — even several months — in a refrigerator.

Whole washed and wrapped parsnips will also keep well in
unheated garages, sheds, and cellars during the very cool
days of fall and on into the winter. Do not, though, allow
such roots to alternately freeze and thaw. (One good
continuous freeze is OK, but alternate freezes and thaws
will cause the vegetable to rot.) Keep any parsnips stored
this way cool — even cold — but unfrozen.

Parsnips are ideal candidates for pit storage too. Just
bury a big box or barrel in your garden or yard (I’ve sunk
a number of nail kegs from the local lumberyard in mine),
fill it with layers of parsnips surrounded and separated by
layers of dry leaves or straw, fit the container with a
tight lid, and cover it with a tall mound of soil. The
idea, once again, is to keep the harvested roots ill from
drying out, and cool — even cold — but free from the danger
of alternately freezing and thawing.

Of course, in most localities where parsnips are grown,
there’s no real need to go to even this amount of trouble.
Here in Nebraska, for example, I usually just leave about
half of each year’s crop of the vegetable right in the
ground and right in the rows in which they grew. All I do,
in the fall before the first freeze, is cover the parsnips
with four or five inches of dirt and then top that earth
with another four or five inches of straw, leaves, or other
mulch. So protected, the roots slumber peacefully through
the winter and are at their very best when dug fresh as
desired from the garden early the following spring.

The general rule, by the way, that most folks follow when
using this last method of storing parsnips is “the roots
must be harvested in the spring before new growth begins.”
And it is true that the vegetables probably will be
worthless for the table if they’ve started to grow again
before you dig them. I have found, though, that the
parsnips themselves are still quite palatable if dug after
only a little new foliar growth has been sent out by the
plants.

What this means in actual practice is that, as soon as I
see the first signs of new green foliage popping up in my
buried last-year’s parsnip patch, I simply pile on more
soil and mulch. By so doing, I’ve been able to inhibit any
damaging second-year growth until as late as May 1.

Still, the earlier you dig “wintered over” parsnips, the
better. And, properly stored (washed and wrapped and placed
in the refrigerator or a cool cellar), such spring-dug
parsnips will keep and keep well until the new crop matures
in the fall.

Finally, if you’re a true child of the modern age … yes,
you can store parsnips in your home freezer too. Wash each
root thoroughly and slice it-either cross — or
length-wise — into quarter-inch-thick pieces. If the cores
are woody, remove them with a sharp knife. Then water-scald
the chunks of vegetable for three minutes or steam-scald
them for four … and cool, bag, and freeze the prepared
parsnips.

Cooking Parsnips: Recipes

Parsnips are rich in minerals and vitamins … especially
vitamin C. The vegetable is also reputed to aid digestion.
And, although I have no scientific or medical proof, I
personally find that regular servings of the roots improve
my circulation and alleviate pain in my joints, my hands,
and my feet.

I’m sold, then, on the healthful benefits of eating
parsnips. I’m also, after some experimentation, more than a
little excited by the gastronomic potential of the
vegetable … as I’m sure you will be too if you try the
following recipes.

Root Chowder

Slice one medium parsnip (core it, if its center is woody),
one small turnip, one medium carrot, one small onion, two
golf ball-sized potatoes, and three medium salsify, and
steam them all in a covered container until they’re
completely tender. Then mash or blend all the vegetables
and combine them with four cups of milk. Bring the
resulting solution to a near boil — but do not boil
it — over a low flame.

Brighten the dish with pinches of garlic powder, red pepper
flakes, parsley, oregano (go easy), or celery seasoning.
Then pour the chowder into bowls, top with pats of butter,
and season to taste with salt and black pepper.

French Fried Parsnips

Cut very large parsnips crosswise into four-inch-long
sections. Then quarter each section lengthwise and slice
the resulting pieces lengthwise again into eighths. Remove
all cores and continue slicing the pieces of parsnip
lengthwise until each one is “french-fry” size.

Deep-fry the slivers of vegetable in oil, just the way
you’d deep-fry potatoes, until they’re golden brown. Salt
and pepper to taste and serve as a supremely healthful
snack, or side dish.

For tenderest fries, deep-fry the sliced root over a low
flame in a covered pan until each sliver is half done. Then
remove the cover and brown the pan’s contents over a
medium-high flame. You’ll be surprised at how little oil
the pieces of parsnip will absorb!

Million Dollar Parsnip Pancakes

Cut the upper halves of large parsnips into silver
dollarsized slices three-eighths of an inch thick. Then
tenderize the slices by cooking them in a small amount of
water in a covered skillet over a very low flame. Cook this
way until the inner core, as well as the outer flesh, of
each chunk of the root is tender.

Finally, remove the cover, add enough butter or margarine
to brown the slices, and serve them with maple syrup, fruit
syrup, or honey. And that’s all! This dish tastes better
than “real” pancakes, and is certainly more healthful.

Not-Pumpkin Pie

Use your best pumpkin pie recipe … but substitute an
equal amount of cooked and blended parsnips for the
pumpkin. Serve cold with ice cream or whipped cream.

Parsnip-Pecan dream

Add one-half to one cup of chopped or blended shelled
pecans to the Not-Pumpkin Pie recipe (above). Fill
individual baking dishes with the mixture and bake until it
becomes firm (approximately 45 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit). Top
with pecan halves and cherries. Chill. Serve with whipped
cream topping.

Parsnip Royale

Cook four cups of one-quarter-inch-thick slices of parsnip
in one-half cup of orange juice in a covered skillet, over
a very low flame until the parsnips are half tender.
Maintain enough liquid (orange juice or water) in the pan
at all times to prevent burning.

When the slices of parsnip have softened but are still
firm, add one-eighth pound of butter or margarine and
simmer until the shortening is absorbed by the chunks of
vegetable (about three minutes).

Then add one-half cup of honey and a dash of ginger. Cook
everything over very low heat until the slices of parsnip
are thoroughly tender and the, syrup has thickened
slightly. Do not overcook.

Serve this heavenly creation, piping hot, in very small
dishes (it’s rich). Top each portion with one tablespoon of
honey-butter-orange juice syrup. For a really special
occasion, you can pour a scant spoonful of brandy into each
bowl, ignite it, and present this dessert au
flambeau.