The parsnip has been around for thousands of years. Before potatoes took over as the main starch, parsnips were the star of dinner tables during the winter months. The root vegetable looks like a white carrot, and you can store them for several months under ideal conditions. 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. However, it's best to avoid the large ones, as they get an undesirable woody, bitter core.
It is best to choose small to medium parsnips, about 5 to 10 inches in length. Avoid any that are limp or shriveled; the tips should be firm and pointy. Look for firm flesh without soft spots, blemishes, cuts, or cracks. The color should be an even yellowy-cream hue without any dark markings, which 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 those fruits near parsnips.
Parsnips should keep well under these ideal conditions for four to six months. It's good to check on them often and remove any roots that begin to deteriorate.
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 in an airtight container and used within three days.
To freeze, cut parsnips into 1/2-inch cubes and parboil or steam for three to five minutes. Once cool, pack the parsnips into well-sealed containers, and freeze for eight to 10 months. Fully cooked parsnip purée may also be frozen for up to eight months. A parsnip purée that includes other ingredients, particularly dairy, should be frozen for no more than one month.
What can you do with bad parsnips?
There is no saving a parsnip that has spoiled. To optimize its value, drop it into your compost heap. Before you do, 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, keep in mind that handling the plant may cause severe reactions, such as skin lesions and dermatitis. Triggered by sunlight, it is more common with wild parsnip, which grows along roadsides. For sensitive individuals, contact with the sap of cultivated parsnip leaves may also cause a reaction. To avoid this painful experience, wear long sleeves, pants, and gloves when working with parsnip in your garden, limiting the activities to cloudy days. If the reaction is severe, seek medical attention.
Wild (Poison) Parsnip. Vermont Department of Health. 2022.