When a trip to the mainland seems far off I remind myself…parsnips do grow on Kauai! Not only do they grow, they grow big. I planted them for the first time with no expectations. Especially since I planted a little late. I assumed if they were to work at all I probably should have planted them in October. It seemed like an unusually “cold” February so I took a chance. Germination was excellent but I was still hesitant. Sometimes germination will be successful yet the plant will not bear fruit or fruit may be stunted. This can happen here because the weather is just too warm for foods that are acclimated to a cold season. A month went by and the stems grew beautifully, up to 12 inches. Month 2, the stems were up to 2 feet. I dug around to see how they were doing. There were some real winners but many that were small and growing slowly. Month 3 I harvested the larger parsnips.
Although a secret joy filled my heart with the parsnip harvest, I knew it wasn’t about quantity or beauty. It was about flavor. Parsnips are considered a winter vegetable because their flavor is not fully developed until the roots have been exposed to near-freezing temperatures for 2 to 4 weeks in the fall and early winter. The starch in the parsnip root changes into sugar, resulting in a strong, sweet, unique taste. There was no kidding myself about winter on Kauai. The real test would be happening in the kitchen.
For 3 months I anticipated this event. Cleaning the parsnips in my sink, I felt the magic I frequently feel when cleaning and preparing the food my husband and I harvest fresh daily. Similar to the magic I feel when preparing a bed to be planted or saving seeds for replanting or cultivating the soil so roots have enough space to stretch. I realized I have this feeling frequently because growing food is as integral to life as breathing and sleeping. To feel the magic of the cycle of life, the beginnings, ends, the failures, successes, the secret joys, disappointments, anxieties, hopes, unknowns, faith, trust…to feel all of these emotions from growing a crop of parsnips, arugula, or carrots is to feel the power of a creative intelligence beyond human understanding. How fortunate it is to feel this power. How fortunate to experience such moments in the course of a lifetime.
Simplicity for these parsnips would be the best route. This would give me an indication as to whether or not I would plant them again. My favorite parsnip preparation is to roast them in olive oil, garlic, salt and tarragon.
8 parsnips cleaned and peeled
4 cloves garlic minced
2 green onion (3 if small)
2 tsp salt
olive oil to coat
1/2 cup minced tarragon
Preheat oven to 350. Julienne parsnips or cut into coins diagonally. Toss all ingredients together and roast in oven for 20-30 minutes until tender.
My hopes exceeded my expectations with these “jewels of the garden” as they were commonly referred to for the next 2 months. Although they didn’t experience the frost necessary to make them sweet, they were sweet enough for me. Most importantly, the distinct nutty flavor was more pronounced than the sweetness without them being bitter whatsoever. I think this flavor is what I love most about parsnips rather than the sweetness.
I have tried several other preparations that have been just as delicious as the recipe above. I have roasted them with carrots, kabocha squash and lamb with a ginger, mint, cumin, coriander pesto that was quite decadent. Look for the recipe soon! I have also made baked parsnip chips for a salad garnish.
There are still 2-3 harvests left with which I will make parsnip puree and parsnip, turnip soup. Stay tuned!
I will be saving an extra long row for parsnips to plant in October!
P.S. Check out the shama bird in background in the top photo by Paul Myers!