Parsnips: A vegetable from antiquity

With parsnips,small roots are better

Parsnips are root vegetables that are closely related to carrots and parsley. History dates the usage of parsnips to the time of the Romans. Although parsnips are a biennial root vegetable, they are generally grown as an annual. Parsnips have a cream colored tuberous root.

Parsnips have a long and varied history. During Roman times Emperor Tiberius accepted parsnips as part of the tribute from the people of what is now Germany. The French and British colonists introduced parsnips to the North American continent. Before the cultivation of sugar beets and cane sugar, parsnips were used as sweetener.

Although parsnips can be eaten raw, more commonly they are served cooked. They can be baked boiled, fried, pureed, roasted or steamed. Parsnips provide a rich tone to casseroles, soups and stews. In many English speaking countries, Christmas dinner is not complete with roasted parsnips on the menu.

Parsnips are best left in the ground until their tops freeze in late fall. This allows the flavor to become sweeter. Unharvested roots may be left in the ground to be used during the winter. The bed where the parsnips are planted needs to be mulched to prevent the parsnips from freezing in the ground.

For the best flavor harvest the parsnips when they are small to medium width in size. Large roots have the tendency to be woody and fibrous.

To store parsnips for later fresh use, they require a cold moist storage, which is temperatures between 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 degrees F, but require a relative humidity of 90-95 percent. To store parsnips, place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator. To maintain the high humidity, put the parsnips in a plastic bag or place the parsnips unbegged in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator. If the parsnips are washed before they are put into moist storage, be sure to remove the excess moisture to prevent them from rotting. The average storage life for parsnips, using this method is two to six months.

Although parsnips may be canned, freezing results in a better product.To freeze parsnips, choose small to medium-sized parsnips so they will be tender and not woody. Remove the tops. Michigan State University Extension recommends washing the parsnips under fresh running water. Peel the roots and cut them into ½-inch cubes or slices. It may be necessary to remove a fibrous core. Blanch the parsnips in boiling water for three minutes. Cool the parsnips in ice water. Drain and remove any water from the cubes or slices. If water is left on the cubes or slices, freezer burn will result. (Freezer burn is that pale dry spot on food where the moisture has evaporated due to incorrect packaging and removal of air.) Pack the cubes or slices into containers or freezer bags. For the freezer containers leave ½ inch headspace. If you are using freezer bags, remove as much as a possible to prevent freezer burn. Be sure to label the containers and bags. Then freeze the parsnips.

Parsnips have been used since the Roman times. For some trying them may be a new adventure. With the crisp winds of fall why not try some parsnips with the next roast beef dinner along with the carrots and potatoes. 

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