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Parsnips PDF Print E-mail

by Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist
April 2012

This is the season for root vegetables since they are among the last locally grown produce to be available as we come to the end of the 2011 produce season. The exceptions to this would be any of the previous season’s produce in your freezer, apples, and perhaps some potatoes and squash. The pale yellow parsnip is one of those underrated and underused root vegetables that is still available fresh.

When asking people about their history with parsnips very few have had the same long term relationship I have had with parsnips. I consumed them often while I was growing up since they were a favorite of my mom’s, who served them frequently in the fall and winter months. I acquired a taste for them and continue to enjoy them. Due to their long growing season parsnips are not ready for harvesting and eating until the early fall, after the first frost, but they can continue to be harvested until early spring since they prefer the cold weather. This year has been a good year for accessibility to parsnips since they have been easy to get to in the ground since there has been little snow cover. Farmers often do not dig them up out of the ground until late. My uncle, an avid gardener, never dug up all his parsnips until early April, claiming that’s when they were the sweetest since by this time their starch turned to sugar. Parsnips deserve a prize for being the sweetest and most succulent of all the root vegetables though some carrots can be just as sweet. In fact parsnips were used in Europe for sweetening desserts and jams before sugar was widely available. Many parsnips have a unique shape since the root often becomes quite contorted and twisted by the time they are on the produce shelf at the store. This is just an indication of the rocks they might have confronted in the soil as they grew. They do prefer sandy loamy soil but as we know Vermont soil has lots of rocks, hence the forked roots. Parsnips are related to carrots, parsley, fennel, celery, and celeriac. Parsnips were native to the Mediterranean region and were very popular throughout Europe before coming to North America in the 17th century.

Parsnips have some nutrition attributes to boast about: fiber, folic acid, vitamin C, potassium, and some powerful antioxidants. Their fiber content surpasses that of many vegetables and the vitamin C, folic acid, and potassium levels are impressive for this often ignored root vegetable.
Choose parsnips that are firm and not too contorted since they are more difficult to cut up and utilize fully with all the twists and turns. They can be prepared very simply in a variety of ways or you can try something more complex with the recipes below. Cut off the ends and peel them or scrub them well before using them. Some easy ideas for preparation of parsnips are roasting them with other root vegetables (375 to 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes with a little olive oil), steaming and then puréeing them for a soup, and last but not least baking sliced parsnips in the oven with a little butter or olive oil and orange juice or cider for 20 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
Don’t let the winter or spring go by without enjoying delectable and sweet parsnips!

Here are a couple recipes that you might not even consider for parsnips but I decided to be adventurous and was very pleasantly surprised with how delicious the results were. The cake will really surprise anyone you serve it to for dessert especially after you tell them it is made with parsnips!