Discovering parsnips

Last updated 16:00 20/06/2012
parsnips
NIOLE GOURLEY/Fairfax NZ

LOOK AT US: It’ is the first Parsnip Week.

parsnips
NIOLE GOURLEY/Fairfax NZ
ON GOING: The parsnip harvest in Woodlands, east of Invercargill, goes all year to keep supermarkets supplied.

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Welcome to Parsnip Week. Shawn McAvinue talks to a Southland man trying to get parsnip on the plates of younger New Zealanders.

Parsnip eaters are getting older.

Southern Cross Produce manager Matthew Malcolm, 39, said 75 per cent of parsnip buyers were 55 years and older as younger diners were eating fewer roasts.

"We have to do something smartly or our customers will pass away."

Hence Parsnip Week.

Besides, good roasting parsnips were traditionally mashed with carrot but that lacked both imagination and taste and would not entice shoppers to buy parsnips, Mr Malcolm said.

Parsnip week was reinventing the root vegetable, making the younger generation think about parsnips more often and letting them know it wasn't just a winter vegetable, he said.

He envisaged people washing down barbecued breadcrumbed parsnip with a cold beer, but the dream was a long way off becoming a reality.

Of the 10,000 vegetable recipes Googled every month in New Zealand only 300 were for parsnip recipes, he said.

Half of vegetable shoppers in New Zealand bought parsnips once a month, the other half not all, he said.

Southern Cross Produce administrator and Mr Malcolm's daughter, Laura Malcolm, 20, said parsnips were foreign to most people around her age.

About 80 per cent of under 25-year-olds did not know what to do with a parsnip.

"We want to teach my generation how to cook them," Ms Maclolm said.

So they produced recipe fliers for parsnip dipping-sticks, crisp parsnip and bacon, honey glazed parsnip and parsnip pastry tarts.

They wanted parsnip to be part of a Google meal search so they added parsnip to recipes like caramalised parsnip and pear with pork, she said.

Mr Malcolm said most buyers were from rural New Zealand and per capita sales in Dunedin were a fraction of Invercargill sales. Getting the taste of parsnip on to an Oriental palette was a goal.

"There is a quarter of a million Asians in Auckland who don't know what it is."

His company grew 80 hectares of parsnips in Woodlands all year round, employing 30 staff in the busy winter season and sending 250,000 parsnips across New Zealand and Australia each week, he said.

They used to grow parsnips for seven months of the year but supermarkets wanted a guaranteed all-year supply.

The supermarkets were after perfect-looking parsnips so every week about five tonnes of blemished parsnips were sold to the neighbouring dairy farmer for feed.

Southland was perfect for growing parsnips because the low soil temperature helped to develop a sweet flavour in the vegetable, he said.

The old wives' tale "don't eat parsnip unless they've had a frost on them" had an element of truth, he said. However, as they were grown year round, the closest some parsnips got to a frost was when they were sown in July.

He had grown a mix of parsnips, potatoes, carrots and nursery trees before but 10 centimetres of snow in July 1996 sharpened his focus on parsnips.

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The snowfall was saddled with -13.5 degree Celsius frosts so the ground froze solid, destroying the other vegetables and plants.

"But the parsnips were absolutely perfect. From that day we said parsnips are our future."

The next step for the company was to produce peeled, chopped and frozen parsnip for supermarkets and then they could use some of the blemished parsnips, meaning the next-door neighbours may miss out, he said.

"The cows do love them."

- The Southland Times

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