“Faire words butter noe parsnips,” quoth John Clarke in 1639. Maybe so. However, buttered parsnips may surely foment a few fine words. Let’s begin with those sweet, small, cream colored roots that are at their very best now after the first frost. There must be something intrinsically first-rate in the character of a vegetable that sweetens with a bit of adversity.
We’ve spent time on many now-common vegetables that originated in the New World. Parsnips, however, are of a long and varied Eurasian lineage. Like people, vegetables have their trends and are subject to the whims of popularity. Long before the record-keepers of antiquity were around to make note of it, parsnip roots had been foraged and eaten. The empire-building Tiberius, before he retired to Capri, was more than happy to accept payment of German tribute in parsnips, which were then the preferred sweetener before the advent and popularity of sugar beets and sugar cane. The Romans, who frequently confused parsnips with carrots, cultivated parsnips and took them on road trips along with Roman civilization and tax collection. In the farthest reach of their empire, where grapes were less hardy, the wine made from parsnips was reputed to have tasted like Maderia.
Parsnip popularity has since waxed and waned capriciously. Inexplicably, in the mid 19th C, its popularity was wrested away by the blander potato. Presumably, the potato had a better marketing team or a greater advertising budget.
In previous columns, we’ve published recipes for Parsnip Spice Cake With Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting and Creamy Parsnip & Leek Soup all of which are available on the web site. Today’s recipe, Caramelized Parsnips, may recommend itself as a holiday keeper as it can be prepared in advance and is a great deal more reward than effort.