by James Alexander-Sinclair

Before the introduction of the potato to Europe in 1536, the parsnip was a much more mainstream vegetable than it is now.

Freshly harvested parsnipsThink of a vegetable that sums up Christmas. Easy - except that to make things a bit more difficult I am withdrawing the noble sprout from the equation. So that leaves the humble spud and the noble parsnip, and, as far as I am concerned, the latter wins.

Before the introduction of the potato to Europe in 1536, the parsnip was a much more mainstream vegetable than it is now. Parsnips are pretty easy to grow by sowing directly into the ground around March and April - dig the ground well as lumps and bumps will make them adopt unnecessarily distorted shapes. Oh, and don't add too much manure, as that will make them fork. The roots are best harvested after the frost has been, as the cold tends to make them much sweeter and more delicious.

My wife roasts them with maple syrup and grainy mustard: which, I believe, is an adaptation of a Delia Smith recipe. They are also good mashed or in soup or pretty well everywhere: except maybe sorbet or encased in caramel. But I am no chef and I may be far wide of the mark on those two statements.

Parsnips, like carrots are biennials. This means that they flower in the second year but we tend to have eaten them all before they get to flowering stage, so we seldom see the rather fabulous yellow flower - the carrot has a very pretty white flower. However, all this is about to change as, my friend Cleve West will be forgoing his Christmas dinner, in order that his parsnips are flowering in time to be included in the Chelsea Flower Show garden he is designing for the Daily Telegraph. You can see him explaining things here.

Parsnips or not, I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and look forward to seeing you here in the New Year. While I have your attention, here is the link to the Three Men Went To Mow Christmas Special if you have any minutes to spare between snow showers and revelry.

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Talkback: Parsnips
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Gardeners' World Web User 20/12/2010 at 19:58

I had parsnip yesterday so Im not sure how you work out that it arrived at just after half past three.

Gardeners' World Web User 21/12/2010 at 00:22

I love parsnips too James, shame mine are frozen solid in the ground at this moment in time with not much hope of being able to dig any up before Christmas :-( I do still have my sprouts to pick, very noble indeed ;-) Happy Christmas to you too and best wishes to all.

Gardeners' World Web User 21/12/2010 at 10:59

(it won't let me put the... why won't it let me put the?) I am most impressed by your freshly-harvested parsnips: infinitely straighter than mine which are generally broad of shoulder and multiple of roots. The only thing I don't like about parsnips is that they have such big cores: I've taken to harvesting them while still relatively small and storing them so they don't develop the big woody tough middles. Parsnip flowers are very very beautiful and the seeds extremely easy to save: it's also worth saying that to get parsnip seed to germinate well, sow fresh every year as they don't stay viable for long. Parsnipa are also great for entering into rude vegetable competitions. And do try salsify, scorzonera and skirret - similar plants with smaller, more wizened roots, but perennial therefore less effort, and very very tasty.

Gardeners' World Web User 21/12/2010 at 14:41

Are there any sites which have plants singing like the Youtube pets?

Gardeners' World Web User 23/12/2010 at 09:53

need help from someone - purchased a super Plant Spiral (in a flat box) @ Gardeners World show last year - need more but cannot find the name of the company - any help appreciated. Thanks and Merry Xmas to all. Brian

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