Winter Gathering: Parsnips and Pears
Learn all about growing, storing, and cooking with parsnips and pears.
Where I live and farm in Southeastern Utah, parsnips and pears are highlights of the autumn harvest. Pears are picked in late summer when they’re still slightly under-ripe — allowing them to sweeten without becoming coarse and mealy like those left to mature completely on the tree.
Growers patiently wait for a hard frost before uprooting parsnips from the earth. Even though they can be harvested sooner, a hard frost will release their sugars and create a sweeter-tasting treat.
What’s wonderful about both of these seasonal crops is that both parsnips and pears store well for winter and are wonderful when served together in baked goods or on their own in soups, desserts, or simple compotes.
Growing parsnips: Parsnips do best in well-drained, extremely fertile soil with a pH of 6 to 6.8. Sow them in early spring, 1⁄2 inch deep, and thin to about 2 to 3 inches apart. I grow ‘Lancer,’ but you can grow nearly any cultivar with good yields as long as the soil is well-drained, well-aerated, and fertile.
Storing parsnips: Keep parsnips dirty (if possible), cut off the tops, and store them in plastic bags in a cool, dark place — from 38 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit — with plenty of moisture. A root cellar, basement, or refrigerator will all work well for storing parsnips. An important rule of thumb is to keep the temperature consistent for longer-lasting storage. Parsnips should keep in these conditions anywhere between two to six months. Or you could harvest what you’ll use through spring and leave the rest of the crop in the ground to overwinter. Protect them with several inches of straw or mulch in fall before the first frost, and dig them up in spring.
Growing Pears: When planting pears, keep in mind that some are self-fruiting, but many require another complementary cultivar planted nearby for cross-pollination. Pick them when they’re not yet fully mature but when you can easily pull them from the tree.
Storing Pears: After you gather your pears, store them in plastic bags in a cool, dark place where the temperature stays between 30 and 32 degrees. Keep fruit away from other strongly scented vegetables, such as onions and potatoes, as the fruit will absorb their flavor. Storing pears, especially winter cultivars, such as ‘Anjou’ and ‘Winter Nelis,’ will ripen them and help them keep the longest.