The parsnip has been around for thousands of years. Before potatoes took over as the main starch on the dinner table, parsnips were the star during the winter months. The root vegetable, which looks like a white carrot, can be stored for several months under ideal conditions. And, with a few tips on selecting them, you can enjoy the sweet, nutty flavor of parsnips throughout the coldest parts of the year.
Although available year-round in most markets, the prime season for parsnips is fall and winter because the cold and frost bring out their sweetness. These root vegetables can grow to an immense size. It's best to avoid the large ones, however, as they get an undesirable woody, bitter core.
It is best to choose parsnips that are small to medium in size, about 5 to 10 inches in length. Avoid any that are limp or shriveled; the tips should be firm and pointy. Also, look for firm flesh without any soft spots, blemishes, cuts, or cracks. The color should be an even yellowy-cream hue without any dark markings, as that can indicate decay or freeze-burn. If you buy parsnips with their greens still attached, the greens should look fresh and not wilted.
Remove and discard parsnip greens before storing. Store unwashed parsnips in a cool dark place, just as you would carrots. A root cellar is best, though a basement or garage will work. Keep them away from heat sources; the optimal conditions are 32 F to 40 F and 90 percent humidity. Additionally, apples and pears can emit a gas that gives parsnips a bitter taste, so avoid storing them nearby.
Under these ideal conditions, parsnips should keep well for four to six months. It's good to check on them often and remove any roots that begin to deteriorate as you notice them.
Parsnips can also be wrapped in a paper towel and placed in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator. Using this method, 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 eight to 10 months. Fully cooked parsnip puree may also be frozen for up to 10 months.
Using Bad Parsnips
There is no saving a parsnip that has spoiled. 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.
Handling Homegrown Parsnips
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.