Parsnips and turnips are here, signaling the end of our summer season crops. With autumn approaching, our food attentions naturally turn to heartier fare to get us through the colder months that are heading our way, and both of these delightful root vegetables can make a real difference on our cold weather plates!

Parsnips are fantastic and quite impressive cold weather performers. Sweet and delicate best describes the parsnip’s outstanding flavors, while starchy, smooth, and light characterize its texture. Because of its starchy nature, the parsnip can easily stand in for potatoes in your hearty fall meals. These days the potato has pretty much taken the place of parsnips as the source of starch in our diets but in the days of old, before potatoes were deemed edible, the parsnip was prized not only for its long storage life but also for its sweet, nutty taste. A root vegetable, it is a member of the family whose other members include carrots, chervil, parsley, fennel, celery and celeriac. Because they store so well above ground as well as below, parsnips are available year round but to really enjoy the best of their flavors, the optimal season is fall through spring. This root vegetable is best harvested after the first frost since the cold helps to convert the starch to sugar, which sweetens and mellows their delightful flavor. They are used much more across the Pond, where the Brits hold this root vegetable in very high esteem. There is an old English proverb that states “fine words butter no parsnips.” Parsnips are good for you too, containing beneficial amounts of beta-carotene, vitamin B1, vitamin B3, vitamin C, fiber, folate, potassium, phosphorous and iron. As a starchy vegetable they are a great source of healthy calories, coming in at about 100 calories per cup.

{{<Public/StoneSoup/photos/rootvegis.JPG|Purple_top_turnips|Purple top turnips. Photo courtesy Johnny’s Selected Seeds}}Turnips have a history of being unpopular and were long considered a poor man’s food, but our beautiful turnips are far from lowly. Childhood memories of eating turnips left me believing that they have a bitter taste, but nothing could be father from the truth with these beauties! They are so pretty and have sweet, creamy white flesh that makes for wonderfully hearty eating. They are a member of the Brassica or cabbage family, and are grown for both their leafy green tops and their hardy root section, but are mostly used as a root vegetable. They grow beautifully in colder weather as their flavor and sweetness is enhanced by a light frost. They also keep exceptionally well throughout the winter months. Turnips are quite nutritious as they are low in calories and contain lots of vitamin C. (One cup of turnip juice has twice as much vitamin C as orange juice!) They also have lots of calcium and iron, and are considered one of the top vegetables for providing lots of disease-preventing phytochemicals that ward off and detoxify cancer-causing agents. They are even said to help blood circulation and disperse lung congestion, which should be helpful to us during the upcoming cold winter months!

Turnips and parsnips are both easy to prepare. Be sure to wash your root vegetables just before you are ready to use them. Parsnips have long been stereotyped as an ingredient in soups and stews for good reason—they are a truly fabulous addition to both, sweetening a pot of beef stew like you can’t believe! One of my favorite ways to prepare turnips is to roast them in the oven, where they take on gorgeous color and get nice and caramelized. They are also great roasted in combination with our parsnips, and both would be great simply boiled and mashed as a potato alternative.

Our summer season at Stearns has come to an end. Enjoy your parsnips and turnips, and all best wishes for a great winter season!