By the early 1500s the parsnip had become a common food of poor people in Europe. During the Renaissance, it was used in stews, soups, puddings, and bread. Its popularity eventually came into competition with the potato, but the potato won. Early English colonists brought the parsnip to America where historical records date its appearance in Virginia and Massachusetts back to the early 1600s.
This root vegetable has a good nutritional profile. A one-half cup cooked portion has 63 calories, 15 grams (g) carbohydrate, 3 g dietary fiber, 1 g protein, negligible fat, no cholesterol, and 8 milligrams sodium. The fiber in parsnips is high in pectin, a soluble fiber that can help to lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Parsnips also contain vitamin C, potassium, folate, iron, thiamine, vitamin E, and magnesium. So what's not to like?
Parsnips are a member of the Umbelliferae (parsley family), which also includes carrots, celery, chervil, fennel, and parsley. It resembles a carrot but is pale yellow to off-white in color. Although parsnips can grow up to 20 inches long, they are most tender when they are about eight inches long. Very large parsnips are likely to have a tough, woody core. At the market choose specimens with firm and fairly smooth skin that taper to a slender tip.
Don't select parsnips that have a lot of hair-like rootlets growing off the sides of the root. Avoid purchasing any with moist or browned spots. If sold with the tops attached, be sure the greens look fresh and colorful. If sold in pre-packed bags, examine the individual parsnips closely as the bags often have white lines printed on them to enhance the appearance of the produce. Parsnips can be stored in the refrigerator crisper drawer in a perforated plastic bag for three to four weeks.
Because they are fibrous, they usually are eaten cooked. If you buy small, tender parsnips, you can eat them raw grated into a salad, added to a slaw, or cut into sticks and added to a crudit s plate. Peeled parsnips turn brown quickly so cook right away or hold in a bowl of water with a little lemon juice until ready to cook or eat.