A sweet tender treat awaits your taste buds whenever parsnips are on the menu. They are one of those vegetables that people are hesitant to try or have no experience eating. Perhaps it is because I was exposed to them as a young child, that they are high on my list of favorite vegetables.
My father planted parsnips in the garden each year, but he didn't harvest them until the spring of the following year. They were a rite of spring, and when the snow had melted and the ground thawed sufficiently, he dug the parsnips. My whole family loved this vegetable.
My mother would wash and scrub the roots, put them in a small amount of water, and boil until just tender in a cast-iron skillet. She seemed to know exactly how much water to add (not much) and how long to cook them. Once cooked, she removed the cover, made sure the water was gone, and then added a little butter and quickly cooked them a few minutes longer to lightly caramelize the natural sugar present in the parsnips. What a treat!
Luckily today I don't have to wait until spring to enjoy them. Late fall through the winter is the season for parsnips, which definitely improve in flavor and sweetness if they are not harvested until after a hard frost in the fall.
Cold temperatures convert the starch to sugar giving this often overlooked root vegetable its delectably sweet, nutty flavor. They can be stored in a root cellar or in the refrigerator for several weeks.
Thought to have originated in the eastern Mediterranean and Caucasus area, parsnips spread throughout Europe by the Celts. The Romans believed that this vegetable had medicinal, as well as nutritional value. According to folklore, Roman royalty even imported parsnips that grew along the Rhine River. The Romans enjoyed them for dessert when they were served with honey and fruit or made into little cakes.