This Meatless Monday, we feature parsnips, with growing, storage and prep tips, as well as recipes for Carrot and Parsnip Mash and Parsnip and Cauliflower Soup from Vermont Fresh: A Fruit and Vegetable Handbook.Meatless Monday Parsnips

Background

Parsnips are a root vegetable closely related to carrots, which is not surprising given their striking resemblance.  Parsnips, which look like a white, leggy carrot, have been a food source for thousands of years.  Once one of Europe’s winter food staples, parsnips fell out of popularity with the introduction of the potato in the Middle Ages.  Starchy, nutty, and slightly sweet, parsnips were even grown as a sweetener until the 19th century when they were again replaced by another vegetable, the sugar beet.  Parsnips, which are now considered more of a specialty vegetable than a staple in many places, have a unique flavor that verges on slightly spicy.  Parsnips grow significantly better in cooler climes and develop the best flavor after several frosts.  CAUTION: in rare instances, parsnip leaves can cause burn-like rashes.

Growing Tips

Parsnips like to be grown in deep, rich, loose soil that is free of rocks and weeds.  Like carrots, parsnips should be directly seeded and not transplanted.  Parsnip seeds do not store well, so it is important to make sure you don’t use old seeds.  Sow seeds thickly about ½ inch deep in the soil in mid-spring.  Parsnip seeds can take three weeks or more to germinate, so do not be discouraged if you don’t see seedlings right away!  Once seedlings have sprouted and are growing steadily, thin out the plants so that each seedling has several inches of room to grow.  Weed frequently and water occasionally in dry weather.  Harvest only after a hard frost has occurred for the best flavor.  Parsnips are difficult to pull up and will probably need to be dug out with a shovel or spading fork.  They can usually be left in the ground well into October.

Storage

Parsnips will keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for several weeks after harvesting.  They can also be stored in a root cellar or another cool place, especially if they are packed in damp sand.  To freeze parsnips, remove the tops and scrub roots well.  Peel and slice as desired.  Steam or blanch parsnips for three minutes, cool, and drain.  Pack in freezer bags or containers and freeze.

Nutritional Benefits

Parsnips have high concentrations of Vitamin C, fiber, folic acid, potassium and carbohydrates.  Parsnips are a diuretic.  They may help with bladder problems, kidney stones, and detoxifying the body.

Preparation

Choose medium-sized, smooth-skinned roots without any obvious soft spots.  Larger roots can have tough, woody cores.  Before preparing parsnips, scrub them thoroughly, cut off the tops, and peel them if you wish.  Young, tender parsnips can be eaten raw in salads, but parsnips are most often cooked.  Their flavor can be very intense, so experiment with small quantities.

Meatless Monday Recipe: Carrot and Parsnip Mash

Janice Santiago, a volunteer baking, tasting and testing recipes out of the Vermont Fresh Handbook tried out this recipe.  Her comments and adjustments are in italics below the recipe.

Serves 4
(adapted from John Harrison:  allotment.org)

Ingredients

  • 4 medium carrots
  • 4 medium parsnips
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons milk or cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Trim any remaining greens off the carrots and parsnips.  Scrub them thoroughly and, if the skins are old or tough, peel them if desired.
  2. Chop the carrots into ½ inch-thick pieces.  Do the same with the parsnips.
  3. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil.  Add the carrots and parsnips and boil until soft.  If you prefer, you may steam them instead.
  4. <