Rooting for Parsnips
The real test
of a parsnip is in its taste. Whether it's in the soil
or in the oven, Fiona Lawrenson has some handy tips
for getting the most out of this rewarding root vegetable
As a child I loathed
parsnips - they sat on my plate, with the Sunday lunch,
looking pale and insipid, boiled and uninteresting.
No disrespect to my mother's cooking, but they didn't
do it for me, not until I reached adulthood and my own
kitchen. Now the humble parsnip is big time back on
the menu, but in a different guise altogether!
Parsnips all said and done are a very valuable winter
veg to have in your garden. They are hardy
and after a cold spell the starch in the root turns
to sugar, making them sweeter than ever.
They do require an open site on a soil that is deep
and light in texture. If you have a shallow, stony soil,
parsnips aren't for you unless you grow them in raised
beds or grow a short bulbous variety such as 'Avonresister'.
They require a pH
of 6.5, so if your soil is too acidic apply lime.
A lack of lime in the soil can increase the risk of
canker, which is the disease that appears in the form
of blackish-brown patches on the crown
and shoulders. Sadly there's no effective remedy to
this problem, so prevention rather than cure makes for
a happier parsnip!
Parsnips are fussy germinators and the seed must be
fresh - no older than two years. Sowing is often recommended
for late Feb/early March so as to ensure a long growing
season. But as their germination can be slow and patchy
if the soil is cold, really, what's the point if your
overall germination results will be poor? I wait for
a little more warmth in the soil and sow in mid/late
Sow in well-prepared soil which has a fine tilth in
rows 1/2 inch deep and 12 inches apart. Sow the seed
at intervals along the drill,
a method called 'station sowing'. This is advised because
of the low germination rate. Sow 2-4 seeds at intervals
spaced 5 inches apart. Once germinated, thin to one
For overall care, keep weed-free and don't water in
a sporadic manner as this will cause them to split and
become woody. Either water regularly or not at all.
Parsnips are ready to lift from October onwards. You'll
find the foliage dies away completely in the winter,
so mark the row. Lift the roots whenever required and
they should keep you going through till March. To make
lifting easier in frozen spells, cover the rows with
dead bracken or straw. Right now, after a couple of
frosts, they should be just about perfect.
'Avonresister' - short-rooted, ideal for shallow soils
'Cobham Improved Marrow' - good resistance to canker
'Tender and True' - lovely long roots, little hard core,
good resistance to canker
'Archer' - long white roots, smooth skins, good resistance
to canker, strong germination, high yielder.
Transform your parsnips into a golden, crispy delight.
Simply peel and slice long ways, parboil for 3 to 4
minutes. Drain and dry in kitchen paper. In the meantime,
place a roasting tin on the top of your stove. Add olive
or vegetable oil to a depth of approximately 1 cm deep.
Heat until hot, then add the dried parsnips and a couple
of sprigs of fresh rosemary. Take a fork and very carefully
cover them in the oil before placing into a pre-heated
oven at 190C for approximately 15 minutes or until crisp,
golden and delicious.
reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com