Thursday, June 17, 2010

Parsnips and carrots

I have always liked parsnips (pastinaca sativa) – apparently, they were my father’s favourite veg, too. And I have wondered why they are so infrequent in appearance in South Africa, and so expensive when they are available. I mean, we are continually swamped with carrots (daucus carota sativus) and they are basically the same shape and the same family, and with eyes closed the flavours are not that different. Where carrots grow, surely parsnips grow? Parsnips are also very closely related to parsley. Parsley can be cultivated to produce a very large tap root (Hamburg root parsley) which looks very similar to parsnip, though the flavour is quite dissimilar. Parsnips are richer in vitamins and minerals than carrots (or parsley), and they are a rich source of potassium and dietary fibre

Wikipedia tells me that parsnips are not grown in warm climates because they ‘need frost to develop their flavour’. Apparently they have been ‘naturalised’ into this country – we do get frost here, even snow occasionally – but I guess it is not a huge cash crop. Maybe if I spread the word that the Romans considered them an aphrodisiac, they will grow in popularity and demand will increase!

Carrots, on the other hand, are ubiquitous. In their early cultivation, they were grown for the seeds and aromatic leaves - as parsley, cumin, dill and fennel still are. The leaves are edible as a leaf vegetable, but are seldom eaten by humans. While the usual culinary carrot is orange in colour, other colours do exist – white, yellow, red and purple – but these are usually grown as novelty crops, not for general distribution. There is a variety of carrot grown in northern India which is pinkish red in colour, similar to a raspberry. It is unknown beyond Central Asia, but its popularity is growing.

Remember our mothers used to tell us that carrots would help us see in the dark? This story was spread by the British Royal Air Force, during the Battle of Britain, to cover up their fighter pilots’ successful use of the (then) new radar technology. British fighter pilots ate lots of carrots, so it was said, and could see better in the dark and successfully engage with the enemy. This story actually built on existing German folklore.

A lack of vitamin A in the diet does affect eyesight, including night vision, and adding vitamin A back into the diet counteracts this. 100gms of carrots contains a vitamin A equivalent of 93% of the daily requirements.


Roberto said...

We're very lucky here, in OZ, as we have lots of Parsnips available - mostly through autumn and winter. I use them, religiously, in my winter roasts, and my (Mum's) vegetable soup.
Keep 'em coming, I say. Love 'em!

Sphinx said...

Well, we've just cleared out the veggie patch of the last stagglers, and we have had our first frost - my fish pond has frozen over. I think maybe I will try growing parsnips and broad beans myself! Then I can harvest and freeze to keep a year round supply!