The appearance of jaunty, yellow daffodils is one of the first signs of spring. For farmers, their appearance also means it’s time to plant parsnips again, which, like daffodils, do best in soil that's around 40 degrees.
Spring parsnip planting means winter’s parsnips have been harvested and the local greenmarkets can be scoured for the few remaining root vegetables of the season. Spring brings the sweetest parsnips of the year due to frigid winter temperatures and mounds of snow on the ground.
“If they don’t freeze, then they’re not sweet," explains Jack Algiere (pictured below), the farm manager at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. “Parsnips need to get really cold. They do need to get all the way deep into the winter for that sugar to come out.”
Parsnips harvested this late in the season are gargantuan in size compared to smaller, younger ones. But size has no impact on flavor. Algiere notes that Dan Barber, executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, likes to cut cross-sectioned “steaks” of large parsnips.
Parsnips, which are related to carrots, also have historically been used as a substitute for meat. Romans enjoyed the root vegetable, and parnsips have traditionally been eaten in place of meat during Lent or mixed with salt fish and butter for a traditional Lenten meal.
In addition to planting parsnips, farmers are also busy now planting carrots, turnips, beets, radishes, lettuces, peas, and fava beans. And now that grass is growing again, animals are being moved out into pasture, a labor intensive feat at Stone Barns. Algiere adds (with a chuckle) that both animals and farmers are grateful for the warm weather and change in seasons.
Try using some of the season’s last parsnips in this "Parsnip Soup" below.
by Dan Barber, executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns
- 1 lb parsnips, peeled and diced small (about 5-6 medium parsnips)
- 2 leeks, white parts only, chopped
- 5 shallots, chopped
- 2 gloves garlic, minced
- 1 apple, peeled and diced
- 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 Qts vegetable stock
- salt and pepper
1. In a medium pot, heat oil over a medium-low flame; add leeks, shallots and garlic and sweat for about 10 minutes.
2. Add parsnips and apple and continue to cook for 5 minutes; season well with salt and pepper.
3. Add stock and bring to a simmer; cook at a simmer for 20 minutes.
4. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth; pass through a fine mesh sieve and adjust seasoning.