Parsnips, a Mid-Winter Break

Harvesttotable.com

        Right now in Upstate New York we are enjoying what is know as the January Thaw, a fairly predictable period of time in Winter (anywhere from early January to late February) when temperatures rise above normal for a few days, allowing some of the snow to melt off, a few of the insects to come buzzing about again, and perhaps even a bear or two wanders out of hibernation and stretches its legs.  Invariably it may bring gardeners out-of-doors, to stroll and smell the beds put to sleep for the season, likely even find a tool or two that was consumed by weeds back in September.  Bulbs of garlic and tulips that have heaved out of the ground are poked back in, and perennial beds that were neglected are hastily mulched, fingers crossed in hopes that they will again be forgiving and grow on in the Spring, despite our ill-care.

By this time in the Seasonal diet, items from the root cellar like carrots, beets and turnips, potatoes and squashes have become the staple dinner fare, with dried beans, onions, garlic and canned veggies from the pantry rounding out the variety.  It’s hearty, comforting and nourishing food, perfect to carry one through the cold season.  But, oh, would not something fresh from the garden be such a treat?

Enter the Parsnip, planted first thing in the Spring, and best harvested during the mid-Winter thaw!  Days like these are perfect to go out and lift the mulch, looking for the tiny tell-tale bright green shoots that indicate treasure lies below.  Parsnips have traditionally offered fresh fare to liven up mundane Winter tables for generations.

Fresh-dug Parsnips.

Fresh-dug Parsnips. source: Two Chances Veg Plot Blog

Parsnips were very well-known in our culinary history, having fallen out of fashion as of late, yet now enjoying a resurgence in popularity.  Parsnips look like blond carrots, with their flavor being best described as a cross between a coconut and a carrot, creamy, earthy and sweet.  Unlike carrots, parsnips need to be peeled and are generally eaten cooked, not raw.  Parsnips show two phenotypes, long and slim, and shorter and chunky.  The core of the thicker parsnips can be a bit woody and bitter, I find it best to core the larger ones.

Parsnips are in the carrot family, and thus biennial, meaning they grow leaves the first growing season, then will send up a seed stalk if allowed to grow a second season.  Parsnip stalks are upwards of 5 feet in height, and have flowers and seeds that look much like Dill.  Parsnip seed head and seeds Source: wikipedia

Parsnip seeds like to be planted first thing in the Spring, as soon as the ground can be worked.  Better yet, prepare the ground ahead in the Fall.  Parsnip seeds should be surface-sown, thus they like the wet days of April to keep them moist.  If it happens to be a dry Spring, keep the seedbed dampened until they sprout.  Parsnips grow much like carrots:  They fare just a little better against weed competition, but not much, so keep them weeded and watered regularly over the growing season.  Thinning the seedlings will result in better yields.  One reason Parsnips may not be for every garden is they are a space commitment the entire season and beyond.  However having fresh harvest in Winter and early Spring can more than make up for the space given.

Source: Benedict Vanheems     Parsnips can be harvested at the end of the growing season in the Fall, but they are so much better if left to build some bulk and sugar content through some cold weather.  Mulching the parsnips will protect them from mice or other predators, and makes it easier to dig them out.   Once that warm spell in mid Winter hits, run out and lift the mulch and use a broad fork to carefully extract the delicious roots.  Parsnips can also be left in the garden to harvest in the Spring, but be sure to get out early and pull the before the leaves actively start growing again.  Once they bolt, they should be lifted and composted or left to go to seed for your garden next year.

Do take care not to over trample the garden bed, for soil compacted while wet can take time to recover.  To cut down on soil compaction (and muddy boots), lay some boards, cardboard or even newspaper on the ground where you are working.  No help for the mud on the parsnips, though. :/

Wash peel and core your parsnips, and they are ready to cook.  They can be prepared any way you enjoy carrots: parboiled, steamed, mashed, glazed, baked or even roasted.

They are excellent with butter, cream, parsley, nutmeg, ginger, cheeses, even caraway.

One of my favorite recipes with parsnips is that of Cheddar Parsnip Soup, from Sundays at Moosewood:

1 med onion, chopped                          3 med potatoes, peeled and cubed (~1 1/2lbs)

1 tsp salt                                                  3 cups water

2 Tbs vegetable oil                                1/4 tsp ground fennel seeds

2-3 tsp caraway seeds                          3 cups med sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

5 medium parsnips,                             3 cups milk

peeled and cubed ( about 1lb)         chopped fresh Parsley or sprig of Dill

 

I a 3qt saucepan sautee onion with the salt in the oil on low heat until the onions are translucent, about 10 mins.  Mix int he caraway seeds and parsnips.  Stir and simmer gently about 5 mins.

Add the potatoes and water.  Bring the soup to a boil.  Moderately simmer for about 10-15 mins, until potatoes are tender.  Remove soup from heat.

Stir in fennel and cheese.  When cheese is melted, pour in milk.  Cool soup 10-15 mins.  In blender or food processor, puree the soup in batches.  Gently reheat, careful not to boil. Serve hot with garnish or parsley, dill or grated cheese.

 

This soup is so good!

So, if you’ve planted parsnips, get out and pick them.  If not, they are in season at the store or at farmers market, get ahold of some a give them a try.  Then plan to add them to your garden this coming season.  You will be so glad you did!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. The Editors of Garden Variety
    Jan 16, 2014 @ 08:10:45

    Thank you for the insightful information about parsnips. I tried to grow them once but was unsuccessful (critter problem).

    Reply

    • sunhfarm
      Jan 16, 2014 @ 10:45:31

      Do try again! Check with your local gardeners to find out how they take preemptive strikes against unwelcome visitors. Some garden pests like rabbits go through boom-and-bust cycles in their population numbers, as well. You may experience less pressure in a different year.

      Reply

  2. sunhfarm
    Feb 07, 2016 @ 15:45:13

    Reblogged this on Sunny Hill Farm Blog and commented:

    It’s that time again! 🙂

    Reply

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