by Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist
This is the season for root vegetables since they are among the last locally grown produce to be available as we come to the end of the 2011 produce season. The exceptions to this would be any of the previous season’s produce in your freezer, apples, and perhaps some potatoes and squash. The pale yellow parsnip is one of those underrated and underused root vegetables that is still available fresh.
When asking people about their history with parsnips very few have had the same long term relationship I have had with parsnips. I consumed them often while I was growing up since they were a favorite of my mom’s, who served them frequently in the fall and winter months. I acquired a taste for them and continue to enjoy them. Due to their long growing season parsnips are not ready for harvesting and eating until the early fall, after the first frost, but they can continue to be harvested until early spring since they prefer the cold weather. This year has been a good year for accessibility to parsnips since they have been easy to get to in the ground since there has been little snow cover. Farmers often do not dig them up out of the ground until late. My uncle, an avid gardener, never dug up all his parsnips until early April, claiming that’s when they were the sweetest since by this time their starch turned to sugar. Parsnips deserve a prize for being the sweetest and most succulent of all the root vegetables though some carrots can be just as sweet. In fact parsnips were used in Europe for sweetening desserts and jams before sugar was widely available. Many parsnips have a unique shape since the root often becomes quite contorted and twisted by the time they are on the produce shelf at the store. This is just an indication of the rocks they might have confronted in the soil as they grew. They do prefer sandy loamy soil but as we know Vermont soil has lots of rocks, hence the forked roots. Parsnips are related to carrots, parsley, fennel, celery, and celeriac. Parsnips were native to the Mediterranean region and were very popular throughout Europe before coming to North America in the 17th century.
Parsnips have some nutrition attributes to boast about: fiber, folic acid, vitamin C, potassium, and some powerful antioxidants. Their fiber content surpasses that of many vegetables and the vitamin C, folic acid, and potassium levels are impressive for this often ignored root vegetable.
Here are a couple recipes that you might not even consider for parsnips but I decided to be adventurous and was very pleasantly surprised with how delicious the results were. The cake will really surprise anyone you serve it to for dessert especially after you tell them it is made with parsnips!