During Ohio winters, we have much less daylight and the frigid temperatures keep us from spending as much time outdoors. This means we get to spend more time indoors and we talk about the crops we grow.
A recent topic? The components of a perfect parsnip, the vegetable that Culinary Vegetable Institute Chef Jamie Simpson calls the “king of the kitchen.” Farmer Lee Jones loves the nutty flavor that becomes deliciously sweet after the vegetable becomes exposed to the cold. Just like with our ice spinach, the freezing weather allows the wonderful flavor to develop as it transforms much of the root’s starch into sugar.
Farmer Lee also appreciates the crunchy texture of the raw parsnip—that long, slender, tube-shaped, cream-colored root vegetable that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. A member of the parsley family, parsnips are a cousin to the much better-known carrot. The parsnip is also related to other marvelously aromatic crops, including cumin, dill, fennel, and caraway.
Underappreciated as the parsnip is today in comparison to the carrot, this lovely vegetable has been treasured by people for a relatively long amount of time with Texas A&M noting how Ancient Romans treasured this veggie for its nutritional and medicinal value. A story passed down over the centuries shares how Emperor Tiberius had such a passion for parsnips that he had them shipped from Germany where they grew in large numbers along the Rhine.
Celts in that area may have brought them to Germany from the East, centuries ago. Ancient Greeks also enjoyed parsnips—but there’s no evidence that any of these cultures intentionally grew them. Instead, they let them grow wild and then gathered up the fruits of Mother Nature to eat.
In 1542, an image of the parsnip appeared in a German book, and it quickly became a staple at the table for families who needed nourishing food. When sugar wasn’t available (and it often wasn’t, except for the wealthy), people would use parsnips to sweeten cakes, jams, and more.
In the 16th century, the English were also growing parsnips and they imported and grew them in Virginia in 1609 and Massachusetts two decades later.
Versatility of the Parsnip
“Parsnips,” Jamie explains, “may be even more versatile than potatoes because their sugar content allows them to caramelize well—and they also have flavorful raw applications with the raw parsnip having a beautiful floral flavor, one that I love.”
The mild flavors of parsnips allow them to shine in a rainbow of applications, from baking to blanching to boiling, from roasting to mashing, and in soup, stews, salads, and more. Ways that Jamie enjoys using parsnips include the following (among many other ways):
Slice them thinly and then fry until crispy for delicious parsnip chips or make parsnip fries.
Create a marvelous puree. Dice them; brown them in a pan; cover them in stock or dairy; cook the ingredients; and then blend until smooth. “You can make a cannoli from fried parsnip skins,” Jamie says, “and then fill them with this puree.”
Use the intensely flavored parsnip seeds as a flavor enhancer—and the greens in ways that you’d typically use parsley.
Split the parsnips, blanch them, and then put them on the grill.
Flavor vegetable stock and use them in delicious soups.
Parsnips have a subtle spiciness to them, too, a taste on the nutmeg spectrum, making them ideal in recipes where you want another layer of that nutmeggy goodness. Pair them with nutmeg, then, or with parsley, sage, and thyme. With maple syrup. Use them in chicken dishes. In pork dishes. Beef dishes. Use them with spinach. With apples. Potatoes. Pears. Turnips. Celery root. Drizzle them with melted brown sugar. Create a side dish. Create a main dish. Create an unexpected dessert.
No matter what you do, here’s one thing we know for sure. Pairing up parsnips with the ingredient our cherished chefs have in abundance—creativity—will be sure to create incredible results!
Bit of Myth Busting
Parsnips are related to carrots. They are shaped in a comparable way. Because they are white/cream colored, they bear a remarkable resemblance to white carrots.
So far, so good.
It’s not true, though, that parsnips ARE white carrots, a “fact” that’s sometimes tossed around.
At some point, parsnips started to take a back seat to their cousin, the carrot, with some experts speculating that once cane sugar was more readily available, people didn’t take full advantage of parsnip’s delicious and delectable sweetness.
Health Benefits of Parsnips
As you use parsnips in innovative ways in your dishes and menus, you are also providing your diners with the fiber, choline, potassium and more that people need for good health. Here, pairing up the marvelous flavor and satisfying texture of this vegetable with the health benefits of parsnips = a win/win for you, your restaurants, and your diners.
(Alas, the ancient belief that eating parsnips will relieve tired feet appears to be a myth—that is, unless you take a break, sit down, and enjoy some delicious parsnips!)
Regeneratively Farmed Parsnips
At The Chef’s Garden, we regeneratively farm for healthy soil, healthy crops, healthy people, and a healthy planet. We’ve long known that this creates the maximum of flavor for you and your diners. What we’ve suspected and recently verified via independent testing: these crops can also have more minerals than the USDA baseline.
If you’d have been a chef a century ago, you wouldn’t have heard the term of “regenerative farming.” You wouldn’t have heard the phrase of “sustainable farming.” You know why? Farming techniques that are now labeled as sustainable and then regenerative agriculture would have simply been considering good farming then.
Since the advent of conventional farming, though, where crops began to be grown for maximum yield (instead of maximum flavor and nutrition) synthetic fertilizers and quick pesticide pours have largely taken over. Results? A substantial increase in greenhouse gas emissions with a corresponding decline in soil health, along with a plunge in water quality.
A few decades ago, Bob Jones, Sr.—father of Farmer Lee and Bob Jones, Jr.—realized that it was time to stop the madness and return to the earth-friendly farming techniques of our grandparents and great-grandparents.
Order Freshly Harvested Parsnips
Contact your product specialist to get the parsnips and other fresh vegetables, microgreens, herbs, edible and flowers you want and need. New to The Chef’s Garden? Welcome to the family! Thank you for choosing us as your personal farmer. You can find more information about how to get started.