Local parsnips look like carrots, but they are white. They are long, tapered root veggies, and are of the same family as carrots.
A local parsnip doesn’t taste like a carrot, however. It is sweeter, with an earthy, almost spicy flavor. They are also starchier, and larger local parsnips have a thicker woody core that isn’t very tasty.
Don’t peel parsnips, as they have a lot of flavor close to the surface. Scrub them instead. Cut out the woody core if the parsnip is big.
Sweet parsnips were once used as a sweetener before sugarcane became more available. The parsnips are sweeter when cooked.
Growing Local Parsnips
Like many root vegetables, parsnips are best grown in fall. Local parsnips last a long time when properly stored in the winter. You should see local parsnips at the farmers markets in the fall – look for the white carrots, and ask if they are parsnips.
Parsnips need a long growing season, and are best harvested after a few fall frosts. Depending on your local Maryland climate, you may be able to store parsnips in the garden, well mulched. Harvest them throughout the winter.
Parsnips are biennials, like carrots, so their roots are meant to stay in the ground after one season, then flower and set seed the second season.
Like carrots, parsnips need loose soil without stones to grow in. They germinate slowly, and need to stay moist to do so. They can be hard to get started.
You will likely see the long thin local parsnips at the farmers market. However, there are also bulbous parsnips used in food processing, and wedge parsnips.
Preserving Local Parsnips
The easiest way to keep your local parsnips good for months is to grow your own, and store them in your garden bed. If you mulch them well, they can be pulled whenever you need them.
Cut tops off the parsnips, and mulch them with straw or leaves. Mark the location so you can find them again. Ideally, your air temperature will be on average 24F.
If you do grow your own parsnips, you might want to experiment with in ground and other storage methods. If you can provide root cellar conditions, you can pack your parsnips in damp sand or sawdust and keep them all winter. Parsnips may be the hardiest of root cellar vegetables.
You can also freeze your parsnips. Blanching them first keeps their texture and means they can stay in the freezer longer. Use frozen parsnips in stews or try roasting them as a side dish.
Parsnips last a long time in the fridge, at least 2-3 weeks. You might just want to buy them at the farmers market every few weeks.
Local Parsnip Recipes
Like many root vegetables, parsnips are great roasted and in stews. They can be added to (or used instead of) potatoes when mashing, baking, or stewing. Think of parsnips as a sweeter version of potatoes, or a white version of carrots when finding new ways to cook them.
While finding actual recipes can make it easier to try a new vegetable, simply adding parsnips to your own recipes can be a good way to learn more about the flavor profile as well. If you have root vegetables in your meal, try substituting them with different options.
Truly eating seasonally means having different flavors throughout the season. Rather than finding new dishes for each season, learn to make roasted veggies as a side, or have a few soup recipes to change depending on what you are growing or buying locally.
If you do want some actual recipes, they are easy to find! Look into making Simple Roasted Parsnips, or try pureeing them with cauliflower as Parsnip Puree. Parsnip Gratin is a delicious sounding way to mix cheese with your parsnips, and Parsnip Loaf Cake a baked good to hide a new ingredient in.
Local Parsnip Trivia
Parsnip greens have been known to cause severe skin rashes on some people. In fact, wild parsnip burns can cause severe blistering in some. Though cultivated parsnip doesn’t often cause problems, it has been known to do so.
The sweetness of parsnips meant they were historically used as a sweetener before the use of sugar beets or sugar cane. If you have never tried parsnips before, they are available right now at your local farmers market!