All About PARSNIPS
What is there not to love – parsnip soup, roasted parsnip, parsnip mash (I promise you it is lovely) and many more ideas to try.
In the Middle Ages parsnips were valued as medicinal (for tooth ache & stomach ache amongst other complaints) but by the 1500’s they were not thought to be good for humans at all (causing madness) and became an animal fodder. Did you know that to this day the best quality Parma Ham starts life as being fed on Parsnips! By the 17th century they were being eaten once more - recipes for cake and bread are recorded - and they are also recorded as being taken to America by the early settlers. Before sugar beet was widely grown parsnips were used as a sweetener and the residue from evaporated parsnip juice was used as honey. Both parsnip wine and parsnip beer have been made & enjoyed over the years.
For the earliest parsnip crop from late September the heirloom variety Guernsey is the one to go for. Countess, an AGM winning disease resistant choice) will start cropping from October. All varieties will give you roots through the winter months (November to February) with Albion, Gladiator and Tender & True lasting on into March whilst Countess can hold right through to April. Thus, you have the possibility of fresh parsnip over 8 months.
Seed must be sown fresh and they are also renowned for erratic, slow germination in the cold and wet conditions often found early in the year when they are traditionally sown! To get the best from them you can take some different approaches. Firstly, you can sow them later from mid to late spring ((April and May) which we recommend. Secondly you can help them by warming the soil before sowing with cloches or fleece – we find cloches best for us. With the soil less cold and soggy you can then rake to a fine tilth before sowing. If the soil gets very dry under your cloches it is best to water lightly before sowing. Traditionally parsnips were sown in ‘stations’ with three seeds sown close together and then keeping just the strongest seedling. You can try pre-germinating indoors on the window sill on damp kitchen paper pieces (one seed on each) and then plant the paper as the seed germinates. You can also use open bottom paper modules filled with seed compost carefully planning the whole thing after germination (taking care that the seedling and compost don’t fall out the bottom!). These methods allow you to space at 15-20cm apart along the row. Water regularly every week or two and mark where they are before winter snow! In colder areas cover them with straw, bracken or fleece before harsh weather sets in.
We are particularly fond of roast parsnips and are known to use them in place of potatoes (lower in carbs). Parboiled they can then be grilled (with cheese if you wish) or sliced and layered beneath fish to oven bake for 20 minutes. For a sweet casserole chop parsnips and carrots into chunks and slow cook
Enjoy your winter crop