Parsnips galore for Christmas dinner

Andrew Brown finds there's plenty of parsnips to go round for this year's Christmas dinner.
Andrew Brown finds there's plenty of parsnips to go round for this year's Christmas dinner.
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This year I thought I might try and grow or make as much of my Christmas food as I could. It has been a mixed success. Well... it’s been mixed.

I realised early on that I didn’t stand much chance of producing my own meat. It requires quite a bit of skill and organisation to raise a pig and a turkey. I also suffer from the slight problem that I tend to get rather fond of animals. There was a distinct possibility of spending huge amounts of money on fencing and feeding only to discover that I’d feel sorry for the turkey and let it live.

I decided that sprouts and parsnips might be a safer bet. I haven’t yet found myself getting sympathetic towards sprouts and, after the amount of trouble they’ve caused me, my parsnips deserve everything they get.

I planted my sprouts out when they were tiny seedlings and as a result several of them drowned in a shower of rain, a few were gobbled up by slugs and I was left with three prize plants that seemed immune to every pest and disease and to my own incompetence. I hadn’t really thought much about what the bit that you eat would look like on the plant and it was something of a surprise to discover they grew as bulbous lumps around a thick stem. It was less of a surprise to discover that three plants won’t be enough to generously provide for the whole family. They’ll have to make do with two each.

I am, however, adequately supplied with parsnips. In fact I have something of a glut. One of the difficulties of starting an allotment is that you never know how much to grow. Evidently an entire packet of parsnip seed is too much.

All the books say that to grow parsnips you need to ensure that your ground is beautifully prepared and there’s no danger of the roots bumping into stones or clay. Unfortunately when you’ve just dug over a load of compacted soil it doesn’t instantly become soft and pliable. My parsnips look great when they are in the ground. As soon as you pull them up you discover that the top inch is perfect and the rest of the plant is a mess of forked roots. Nevertheless, with the quantity I’ve got I might just be able to squeeze out enough roast parsnips to feed, well, most of the village actually.

I have the opposite problem with my Christmas nut selection. I planted a walnut tree on the allotment, taking care to ensure that it was self fertile. Given that it’s currently only 4ft high I was not entirely surprised that it failed to produce in time. I’m advised that Christmas 2030 might be a realistic target.

I also planted a short avenue of hazel nuts in the front garden. These have already fruited. What’s more, I don’t have any squirrels near me on account of an excess of stroppy cats, so I collected at least 100 hazel nuts. I intend to put these into the Christmas cake. I had hoped to add home-made raisins to the mix but after two seasons I still haven’t got anything out of my sad and slightly solitary vine. But, I do have some nice home-made peel.

After we’d extracted most of the honey from our bees there was a rather large quantity of messy wax and honey mixture that I had to heat to separate. This produced some watery honey that tasted pretty good but didn’t look great. So I tried an experiment of adding orange peel to this honey in an attempt to slowly crystallise it. Cutting the very outer edge off the fruit without adding any of the bitter white parts is something of an art form but I managed it and after leaving it in honey for about four weeks I got a quite magnificent form of candied peel. When I add it to the cake I am hoping that it will produce something of a triumph.

I do however need to make sure it is sufficiently moist. I’m told mixing in some grated carrots is very effective at achieving this. Do you think perhaps parsnips would do the job just as well?