The hearth-warming parsnips in our Central TakeHome cases this week are a quintessential flavor in classic holiday fare, perhaps attributed to their name, which sounds perfectly Victorian when you say it with an English accent. The name “parsnip” is attributed to the portmanteau of parsley and turnip. A portmanteau is a mashup of words like Lewis Carroll’s “slithy” from lithe + slimy, or “brunch” from breakfast + lunch.
Parsnips are part of the carrot family (Apiaceae) together with caraway, fennel, and celery. Along with carrots, they were a primary part of the European diet until the potato’s appearance in the 1600s. They were such a part of everyday food, they pop up in expressions like “[those words] will butter no parsnips” which means “flattery will get you nowhere.” From the River Thames boatman’s poem:
Words are but wind that do from men proceed;
None but Chameleons on bare Air can feed;
Great men large hopeful promises may utter;
But words did never Fish or Parsnips butter
Parsnips don’t need a lot of flattery, but a little butter or cream is nice. The chef guru Julia Child has the simplest recipe: “Purée of Parsnips Mellowed with Cream.” She calls it “a heavenly accompaniment” to a holiday meal. Simply steam parsnips, then purée with a “modest amount of cream” (½ cup) and “correct the seasoning.” Julia doesn’t get any simpler than that.
Like their carrot sisters, parsnips are low-calorie and vitamin- and mineral-rich—only 55 calories per ½ cup. They pack a lot of flavor for their weight. Parsnips don’t take long to cook, only about 10 minutes, so add them in at the end of cooking a stew or soup. Herbs that complement parsnips are basil, dill, parsley, thyme, and tarragon. Or you could just compliment your parsnip by gushing, “You taste absolutely fabulous!”
Preparation: Wash thoroughly, peel, scrape, or gently scrub to preserve the nutrients.
Storage: Store parsnips in the fridge, and don’t peel until ready to use, as they oxidize quickly.
Heidi Lewis writes about farms, bees, and fruit from her home in Sonoma County, CA. She's been with The FruitGuys since they were FruitKids.