The parsnip has been around for thousands of years, and before potatoes took over as the main starch on the table, parsnips were the star during the winter months. A relative of the carrot, and looking like its ghost, the parsnip has a sweet, nutty flavor which is enhanced when touched by the cold frost. If you buy "soup vegetables" for making a broth, you will probably find a parsnip among the bunch. They are also delicious mashed and roasted.
Although available year-round in most markets, prime season for parsnips is fall and winter; the cold brings out their sweetness. These root vegetables can grow to an immense size; it's best to avoid the large ones, however, as they are undesirable due to a woody, bitter core. Instead choose parsnips that are small to medium in size, 5 to 10 inches (12.5 to 25 cm) in length, and are not limp or shriveled. Also look for firm flesh without any soft spots. The color should be an even yellowy-cream hue without any dark markings, as they can indicate decay or freeze-burn. The parsnips should also be void of blemishes, cuts or cracks. If you buy parsnips with their greens still attached, the greens should look fresh and not wilted.
Store unwashed parsnips in a cool dark place, just as you would carrots. If the vegetable still has the greens attached, remove before storing. Wrapped in a paper towel and placed in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator, they should last up to two weeks, if not longer. Cooked parsnips may be refrigerated and used within three days.
To freeze, cut parsnips into 1/2-inch cubes and parboil and drain or steam for 3 to 5 minutes. Cool, pack into well-sealed containers, and freeze for 8 to 10 months. Fully cooked parsnip puree may also be frozen for up to 10 months.
When Parsnips Go Bad
There is no saving a parsnip that has spoiled, so to optimize its value, drop it into your compost heap. Before you do, though, cut the parsnip into small pieces since the parsnip is a hard, root vegetable and it doesn't break down quickly. Trimming it into smaller pieces speeds deterioration.
Handle With Care
If you grow and store your own parsnips, you need to keep in mind that handling the wild plant can cause severe reactions, such as skin lesions and dermatitis. Sensitive individuals also may contract oral allergy syndrome. Symptoms include a burning sensation in your mouth and throat and on your lips. More extreme reactions may include difficulty breathing. Contact your doctor or local hospital if you notice any symptoms.