Parsnips – sowing and harvesting in spring

by Ciaran Burke
Copyright Ciaran Burke 2011

Over-wintered parsnips harvested the last week of February

Oh how I remember the fights, the complaints, there were even tears. A mushy mashed pulp, often served with potatoes, sometimes blended with carrot, always boiled. There was cajoling, efforts of convincing, extolling of their health benefits and even threats. None of it worked. I always left it on my plate, I hated parsnips. But I was young, times change and tastes change…

Many years later, in a restuarant, I don’t remeber which one or where. I had ordered some steak and it came with a garnish of parsnip crisps. I tasted them, frogetting that they were parnspis and I was amazed by the flavour. My long held opinion was about to change, by disregard of the long cream coloured tap root was to be reversed. A new view on parsnips.

Childhood memories, tastes and influences can stay with us as we grow older, even for ever. To me parsnips were always a smashed up mess, ugly and uninspiring. Sometimes it is the pressure from parents, the method of preparation and unflattering presentation that forms our opinon of certain foods. I really did not like parsnips. It was not until my experience with the thin crispy flavoursome garnish that my opinion changed.

Now Pastinacia sativa, parsnip,  is an important crop in our vegetable plot, taking an ever increasing area in our root crop beds each year. Roasted parsnip and oven cooked parsnip chips are the prefferred method of cooking, Chopped into wedges or chipped long and thin, we coat them in rapeseed oil and roast them for about 20 minutes, turning them ever 6 minutes. They come out sizzling, browned outside, tender with in. Bursting with flavour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, they are simply delicious.

Last year I tasted parsnip cake, similar to carrot cake but flavoured with lemon, wow! Unforntuately the Cobblestones cafe in Galway is now gone, replaced by a hairdressers, we really miss Kate’s cakes when we visit the city.

Growing parsnips

We have sown our parsnips about two weeks ago, and there is still time to sow more. At the beginning of this week I also dug up the remainder of last years crop from the soil. Parsnips are exceptionally hardy and can be left in the soil over winter. It is said that the flavour is greatly improved after the cold. My roasted parsnip which I had for dinner last night was certainly flavoursome.

Always use fresh seed, as old parsnip seed does not germinate. We sowed the variety ‘Tender and True’ last year and we are sticking with it this year again. Parsnips like stone free soil and do not dig in fresh manure prior to sowing. They are sown in-situ as they do not trasplant, the roots get broken if you try.

Sow seed 2cm deep in rows 30-45cm apart. When seedlings are 5cm tall thin them so the plants are 20cm apart. Parsnips are easy to grow, keep the beds weed free and water during very dry spells. The crop is ready to be harvested by mid-autumn.

If leaving parsnips in the ground over winter, mark the rows clearly so that you can find them. Lift roots from the ground in early spring before they start growing again.

Parsnips are a great winter crop, easy to grow, simple to store and delicious to eat.

Copyright Ciaran Burke 2011

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