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The food value of Parsnips exceeds that of any other vegetable except potatoes. It is easy of production and should be more extensively grown.
The Parsnip, together with the carrot, was cultivated by the Ancients, but the Roman horticulturists evidently knew nothing of the advantage of selecting seeds, by means of which the best existing variety has been developed. Pliny tells us it was grown either from the root transplanted or else from seed, but that it was impossible to get rid of the pungent flavour. The finest strain raised by Professor Buckrnan, between 1848 and 1850, as a result of his experiments in selection, was named by him the 'Student,' and having been further improved, still takes thefirst rank. It differs in several respects from the wild plant.
According to Pliny, Parsnips were held in such repute by the Emperor Tiberius that he had them annually brought to Rome from the banks of the Rhine, where they were then successfully cultivated. They are dressed in various ways and are much eaten with saltfish during Lent.
In Holland, Parsnips are used in soups, whilst in Ireland cottagers make a beer by boiling the roots with water and hops, and afterwards fermenting the liquor. A kind of marmalade preserve has also been made from them, and even wine which in quality has been said to approach the famed Malmsey of Madeira.
Gerard, speaking of its uses as a vegetable, observes: 'The Parsneps nourish more than do the Turneps or the Carrots, and the nourishment is somewhat thicker, but not faultie nor bad.... There is a good and pleasant foode or bread made of the rootes of Parsneps, as my friend Master Plat hath set foorth in his booke of experiments.'
Tournefort, in The Compleat Herbal (1730), wrote of Parsnips, that: 'they are commonly boiled and eaten with butter in the time of Lent; for that they are the sweetest, by reason the juice has been concocted during the winter, and are desired at that season especially, both for their agreeable Taste and their Wholesomeness. For they are not so good in any respect, till they have been first nipt with Cold. It is likewise pretty common of late to eat them with salt-fish mixed with hard-boiled eggs and butter . . . and much the wholesomer if you eat it with mustard.'
The roots are sweeter than carrots. They contain both sugar and starch, and for this reason beer and spirits are sometimes prepared from them. In the north of Ireland, they have been often brewed with malt instead of hops and fermented with yeast, the result being a pleasant drink, and Parsnip wine, when properly made, is esteemed by many people.
Parsnips are not only a valuable item of human food, but equal, if not superior to carrots for fattening pigs, making the flesh white, and being preferred by pigs to carrots. Washed and sliced and given with bran, horses eat them readily and thrive on them. In Brittany and the Channel Islands, they are largely given to cattle and pigs, and milch cows fed on them in winter are said to give as much and as good milk, and yield butter as well-flavoured as when feeding on grass in May and June.