The moon was full last night so I’m thinking about harvest. You can see other posts in this series by following my ‘harvest’ tag. This month, let’s admire the parsnip.
When is the parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) in season here in Britain? Rick Peters at the Guardian says it’s in season from August to March. Some people say the parsnip season is even longer. But I’m naming the parsnip Crop of the Month now because our frosts have come. Every vegetable gardener and every cook can tell you that most varieties of parsnip taste better when they’ve had a frost on them. Frost brings out the sweetness.
In some ways the parsnip is like the carrot (Daucus carota sativus). Those two crops are starchy, sweet-savoury roots, often long with a pointy end. They even share a Growers’ Association but don’t confuse them. Botanists put them in different genera (Pastinaca and Daucus), gardeners grow them differently and chefs prepare them differently. I’ll write about carrots another time. But today, the parsnip.
Parsnip growing in Britain, like other vegetable growing, happens mostly in East Anglia. Richard Crane and Rod Vaughan of Reading University tell us about the regional importance of horticulture in England and Wales (scroll down to page 16 for their map). The Centre for Alternative Land Use (CALU) provides a crop production guide for parsnips. Carolyn Hart at the Telegraph tells us about a successful parsnip farmer.
For smallholders, Mark Gatter at Farm in my Pocket explains how to grow and harvest parsnips. For amateur parsnip gardeners, Allotment Growers provides this advice and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) provides this advice.
So grow this great vegetable if you have the land and if you can wait almost a whole year from sowing to harvest. Otherwise, buy parsnips. However you get your hands on parsnips you can roast them, make them into soup or follow any of celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s parsnip recipes.
All this horticultural and culinary joy builds on a long and sweetly glorious history. The parsnip was a primary source of starch, alongside grains such as wheat, oats and barley, before potatoes arrived here. The parsnip was a primary source of sweetness, alongside fruit and honey, before sugar arrived here. Here are medieval recipes for parsnip pie and parsnip fritters.
If parsnips were good enough for my ancestors they’re good enough for me 🙂 You may have guessed that this is my favourite vegetable of all.