The Student is a heritage parsnip developed around 1850 by James Buckman originally as an experiment to prove that existing strains could be improved by crossing with a wild parsnip. The results were so good that you can still buy the seed today.
The Student is the parsnip that you are supposed to grow for flavour. It’s quite hard to get hold of seed however in 2017 you can still find it if you look.
I nearly gave up on growing it in 2017, so much so that I didn’t buy new seeds this year because, having tried a few in September, I didn’t find the taste that special. However, as we moved in to the colder weather these became the best parsnips I had ever tasted. The core remained tender even on the largest and oldest parsnips harvested in March.
In the kitchen:
Use as you would any parsnip. They are best roasted in my humble opinion but can also be pureed, braised, crisper, chipped or put in to a rosti.
Health & Yield
Like many parsnips germination time was lengthy (about 25 days) and a bit erratic. Like all parsnips you must buy fresh seed each year.
Once under way they grew well on my clay. Sizes ranged from a couple of centimetre across to nearly 15cm! Length was also variable. I had very little forking, except on the biggest roots. There was some minor slug damage and the very slightest touch of canker on some roots.
I left the parsnips in the ground over winter and harvested the last in March.
How to Grow
Sow in March/April in a sunny position with light stone free soil which has not been manured recently. If growing in heavy clay soil focus on varieties good for baby parsnips.
Parsnips are notoriously slow to germinate so either sow three seeds together, 1.5 cm deep together, 15 cm apart in rows 30cm apart. You can sow raddish in the gaps which will help mark the row and enable you to remove weeds easily. Keep soil moist, especially if we have a hot dry spring. It can take at least 20 days to germinate. When seedlings have their first true leaves, thin to one per station.
Alternatively try pre chitting which involves laying the seeds on damp kitchen roll, cover with more damp kitchen roll and store in a warm place, in a sealed plastic bag or box. After a week start checking daily to see if you can see a tiny shoot starting to emerge. When you do get ready to transplant in to their final positions ASAP before the root gets too big. Tweezers are the best way to pick the seeds up to stop you damaging the shoot. Keep soil moist until you see the shoots coming up through the soil.
Weed carefully around the plants until they are established at which point their foliage should keep weeds down.
Once parsnips are established they should not need watering often unless conditions are very dry. A weekly soak during the summer should be sufficient but more often can be required if the ground is dry. Allowing parsnips to dry out can cause splitting. You do not need to fertilise parsnips.
Parsnips suffer from three main issues, spitting caused by irregular watering, forking i.e. growing into funny shapes caused by pockets of nutrients, usually left by manure or compose which the parsnip then seeks out and divides. More serious is canker which is a rot that sets in from the top of the parsnip and can be caused by mechanical damage, drought or excessively rich soils. If canker is a problem grow resistant varieties. Less common is damage from carrot root fly.