Apparently, to grow the perfect parsnip you just do nothing.
I’m actually ashamed how marvellous my homegrown parsnips were this year. After sowing the Gladiator seeds in a no-dig bed way back in March and apart from a light thinning, I did nothing.
I had plenty of comments from the allotment neighbours. Mainly jealous ones and mild grumbles about how their parsnips had been an absolute failure – although I did get a pat on the back too.
One memorable moment in October, as I pulled the first of the parsnips out of the ground, Dennis, the long-serving allotment holder stood over my shoulder and watched.
As I strained and groaned, my legs straddled across the bed and both hands pulling the root with all my might, he said, ‘Cor! There’s a bloody Aussie hanging onto the end of that one!’
I laughed so hard I couldn’t go back to pulling out the parsnip for a good five minutes.
Then finally this popped out.
There were two reasons for pulling the first parsnip in October.
Firstly, I was anxious about their growth as they were destined to become my pride and joy on the Christmas dinner plate.
The thing about parsnips is they spend an incredibly long time in the ground.
After sowing, you see the green shoots poke through the soil (and this in itself can push your patience as parsnips take a long time to germinate) and grow wonderfully into large mounds of green leaves through the summer months.
But you just don’t know what lies beneath the surface. When autumn took hold, I just had to peek.
Secondly, I wanted to taste the difference between parsnips before and after the frosts. There’s a big difference and an experience that means I shall always wait until after the frost has arrived before harvesting the parsnips in the future.
Parsnips before a frost are well, too parsnippy. They are overbearing with a pungent flavour of parsnip. I’d challenge even the ardent parsnip lover to enjoy them.
However, parsnips after the frost are a delight. The flavour has subsided into a mellow deliciousness and the roots are sweet and moreish.
It was a pleasure to serve my parsnips on Christmas day. Roasted and delicious. Everyone enjoyed them and it was incredibly satisfying knowing I’d grown them on the allotment.
The parsnips have been happy in the ground and I’m sure they could stay there a bit longer. However, I don’t want to push my luck and I want to make something to celebrate this incredible winter root. It has to be a thick parsnip soup.
The ingredient list is simple. It’s also almost all from the allotment garden.
Some butter and oil in a large pan host the chopped onion and garlic. Just long enough to soften.
Peel and chop the parsnips into chunks and add these to the onion and garlic. Add milk and chicken stock (even better, homemade turkey stock from Christmas!) Season with salt and pepper.
Leave the lot to simmer gently for 30 minutes or until the parsnip is tender. Blitz with a hand blender and if you want it extra smooth, pass it through a sieve. Check the seasoning.
It’s delicious just as it is, but you could add a little helping of crispy bacon lardons if your heart desires.
The recipe for this parsnip soup is by Mitch Earl and can be found in the Telegraph.
Parsnips are on the must grow list again in 2018 and I’ll be choosing a variety or maybe two to grow on the allotment.
What about you? Did you have success with parsnips last year? Will you be growing them for the first time in 2018 perhaps? I’d love to hear any particular varieties you grow. Let me know in the comments below.
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