Crop of the month: Parsnip

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.

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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8 Responses to Crop of the month: Parsnip

  1. EqFe says:

    Although you can get two carrot crops in the same time it takes to grow one crop of parsnips, parsnips cost 3-4 times as much where I live, Md. US But you are so right, like brussel sprouts, they taste so much better after a frost. To be honest, for the most part, I use parsnips in much the same way as I do carrots, steamed, in soups and stews, and roasted. Roasting them really brings out the sweetness.
    Our buddy John Seymour was a big fan, and had a recipe for parsnip wine.

  2. Another fascinating vegetable post argylesock thanks! I’ve got a bit of a love hate thing going on with parsnips. In an effort to be more sustainable we get a ‘seasons’ veg box. OMG do you get sick of parsnips by the end of the winter!! In the end I find their sweetness TOO sweet and long for something not so overpowering in flavour. However, a curried parsnip soup is delicious and I’ve put them in a veggie lasagne with spinach – the bitterness of the spinach seems to balance it out a bit.

    • argylesock says:

      I’m glad you like my vegetable posts 🙂 Writing this one, and mentioning it to a senior academic I work for, I did hesitate about whether people would just laugh. But hey, I’m proud to be an agricultural scientist and so’s the academic I mentioned.

      You take a veg box. I’m glad you do that! On WP I mostly avoid the topic of my disability (multiple sclerosis) but it does mean that my cooking days are almost completely over. Reading and writing about veg and other ingredients provide great opportunities to revisit my inner foodie. Your soup and lasagne sound delicious. They’d freeze well, I think, leaving out any cream or yogurt until after thawing. Also – in case you haven’t already thought of this – they’d make nice gifts for neighbours and family.

      • Aha, a science question – why don’t yoghurt and cream freeze well? I noticed this when I tried to freeze a cheese sauce and it went horrid!

        I am sorry your cooking days are over – same with the MS… 😦 Maybe I could send you a lasagne!

        • argylesock says:

          That’s a good question! I know that like you, I’ve found that freezing cheese sauce isn’t successful. A little goofling has just told me that cream ‘tends to separate’ when frozen. But I’m sorry, I’ve never studied food science so I can’t say anything more technical.

  3. Pingback: Crop of the month: Carrot | Science on the Land

  4. Pingback: Crop of the month: Rhubarb | Science on the Land

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