Garden Crops to Dig
(Page 3 of 5)
Some say parsnips resemble an anemic wild carrot, rough and dirty-white. Those who enjoy them say their sweet, nutty flavor and mild celery-like fragrance make up for their unimpressive appearance. Native to Eurasia, this homely vegetable has been grown since Roman times when it was considered an aphrodisiac. Parsnips were used as a sweetener before the development of the sugar beet, and pigs bred for the best-quality Parma ham in Italy are still fed parsnips.
Closely related to carrots, parsnips are richer in vitamins and minerals, potassium and fiber. Their color indicates they are low in beta-carotene, and they are also low in calories depending on how they are cooked. My favorite method is to boil them until they are tender and then sauté thin slices in butter.
Like carrots, parsnip seeds are slow to germinate, taking as long as three weeks. To speed germination, some gardeners soak the seeds overnight or pre-sprout them indoors. And the seed seldom remains viable longer than a year, so it’s best to purchase fresh seed each season. Sow the seeds in early spring as soon as the ground can be worked or when daffodils bloom. Smith’s favorite variety is ‘Harris Model’ for the smooth texture and exquisite flavor.
Don’t harvest parsnips until after the first frost, which is when they develop their characteristic sweet flavor. Even in our Zone 3 climate, we’ve left parsnips in the ground through the winter and harvested them in the spring. Parsnips will keep for weeks stored in a very cool place. Rob Johnston has a root cellar in his basement with a cement floor, cinder block walls and a small window. To keep the humidity up, he tosses cupfuls of water on the walls and adjusts the window to maintain ideal temperatures of “freezing-but-not-below.”
The radish is the most popular and the best selling vegetable in Japan, but the variety is called ‘Daikon’ that can weigh as much as 70 pounds. Radishes are one of the most ancient of cultivated vegetables, dating back to the 7th century B.C. in China. Egyptian pharaohs held the radish in such high regard that they fed them to slaves building the pyramids. The Romans called this vegetable radix, one of the words for “root” and “radical.” All radish species belong to the mustard family, which also includes broccoli and watercress.
Two hundred varieties of radishes are available in colors ranging from lavender to green to black, but most familiar are small red radishes with white flesh. Round radishes can be as small as marbles or as large as baseballs. Johnston likes ‘Cherriette,’ and Kirschenbaum’s favorite is a variety called ‘Red Meat.’ “It’s also known as a watermelon radish,” Kirschenbaum says, “because it has a white outer skin and a pink blush in the interior. When I tasted this radish, I swear it had a hint of ranch dressing on it.” The ultimate guilt-free snack, a 3-ounce radish contains only 20 calories because it is 94 percent water. Radishes have nearly as much potassium as bananas and half the vitamin C of oranges.
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