Parsnips Pastinaca sativa – Carrot Family facts
Griffins first introduced parsnips to this country. The creature once inhabited vast areas of Norfolk amongst the broads. Parsnips were among their favourite foods as were Kendal Mint Cake and fondant fancies. The remains of ancient Griffin farms can still be found in and around Swaffham and each November the local inhabitant’s feast on Parsnip hot pot with griffin shaped dumplings.
This is of course a lie but I couldn’t resist it, everyone knows that Griffins prefer carrots.
The true origins of the modern cultivar, thought to originate in the Mediterranean, can still be seen growing wild all over Europe. The wild parsnip has a thin woody stem that may have been used as a flavouring and similarly the leaves were used as a potherb. There is some evidence to suggest it was the Romans who first started to cultivate the parsnip as we know it today. There is some confusion however as there was not necessarily a distinction made between the carrot and the parsnip at that time.
By the middle ages the parsnip was a popular vegetable often used to sweeten dishes in the absence of sugar cane not yet imported from the new world and at a time when honey was a rare and expensive luxury. The potato was also not yet imported so the parsnip would have been a staple food in the dark ages.
Some Parsnip Facts
• The name comes from the French pastinaca and the ‘nip’ added to indicate its resemblance to the turnip.
• Rather than destroy the plant a parsnip improves with a frost as this turns a lot of the starch into sugar.
• Much of the flavour compounds of the parsnip are to be found under the skin, this is why many recipes call for parsnips to remain unpealed.
• The roots of wild parsnip are said to aid bowel movement and urine discharge.
This couldn’t be simpler, if you have grown carrots they should be treated in much the same way. I am lucky enough to have a nutrient rich light clay soil on my allotment and personally didn’t incorporate any compost or manure to the soil. Parsnips don’t like a too rich medium to grow in so don’t over manure the planting site but most texts agree that some compost should be added as long as it is not too nitrogen rich and the site should be stone free. For show parsnips fill a 3ft deep and 6 in wide hole with light soil or potting compost and as with all parsnips (show or not) they should be watered regularly in dry weather.
• Plant in late February or early March after the last risk of frost, however I didn’t plant mine until the end of March and they seem to be doing fine.
• Sow 3-4 seeds at 6in (15cm) intervals (3in for smaller varieties)
• Thin out when the first true leaves appear leaving the strongest plant.
• Water frequently (at least once a week) and hoe regularly, taking care not to damage the plants.
• Parsnips are best after a light frost and should be lifted using a fork to stop the root from being damaged.
Parsnip and Leek Soup
Serves at least 4
Three large parsnips
Two medium potatoes
3 Cloves of Garlic
Enough vegetable or chicken stock to cover
Some oil or butter
Pinch of Nutmeg
Teaspoon of mustard
Two tablespoons of cream
First soften the leeks in a little butter or oil. Add the crushed garlic about half way through.
Peel the potatoes and chop them
Wash and chop the parsnips but don’t peel them
Add to the pan and allow to soften for about a minute
Cover with the stock and bring to the boil
Reduce heat and simmer adding the remaining ingredients except the parsley and cream
Chop the parsley and add towards the end of cooking
Serve and add the cream and a few sprigs of parsley
This is just a loose recipe and can be adapted with what ever you have. Parsnips have a strong over-riding flavour and will drown out the taste of most other things so it is not necessarily worth adding expensive vegetables or prize crops to the dish.
Rosemary and or Thyme
Parboil some parsnips in a pan
Fill a roasting dish about ¼ deep of oil (enough to cover half the parsnips in depth)
Put the roasting dish in a warmed oven at about 425 F, Gas mark 7 or 220 C and let the oil warm.
Test the oil by dropping a bit of parsnip if it crackles then the oil is hot enough
Chop some garlic up into slivers add to the oil and then place the parsnips in the hot roasting dish topping with fresh rosemary and thyme
Cook for 25-30 minutes until the parsnips are brown.
Roasted parsnips can be made into a soup or used as a side dish for a traditional English roast dinner with roast potatoes, vegetables, Yorkshire pudding, gravy and roast beef or a stuffed marrow* or stuffed pepper* (*not traditional but I’m a veggie so traditional for me)
Parsnips are a very good source of potassium and therefore can be consider a health food as they can help reduce blood pressure.
As in the case of most slow growing root vegetables parsnips are high in nutrients as they absorb the goodness in the soil over a period of time. It is my opinion that vegetables allowed to grow slowly will be of a higher nutritional value than those grown quickly in intensive farming conditions.
An average portion of boiled parsnip will provide the following.
33 mg calcium
0.39 mg Iron
Parsnips are a very good source of potassium and therefore can be consider a health food as they can help reduce blood pressure. They are also contain many of the B vitamins and some vitamin C although this is reduced through cooking.