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‘To Make a Tart of ‘Parsneps & Scyrrets’

The parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is a root vegetable related to the carrot. Parsnips resemble carrots, but are paler and have a stronger flavor. Like carrots, parsnips are native to Eurasia and have been eaten there since ancient times. Zohary and Hopf note that the archeological evidence for the cultivation of the parsnip is “still rather limited”, and that Greek and Roman literary sources are a major source about its early use, but warn “there are some difficulties in distinguishing between parsnip and carrot in classical writings since both vegetables seem to have been sometimes called pastinaca yet each vegetable appears to be well under cultivation in Roman times.”

Until the potato arrived from the New World, its place in dishes was occupied by the parsnip. Parsnips can be boiled, roasted or used in stews, soups and casseroles. In some cases, the parsnip is boiled and the solid portions are removed from the soup or stew, leaving behind a more subtle flavor than the whole root and contributing starch to thicken the dish. Roasted parsnip is considered an essential part of Christmas dinner in some parts of the English speaking world and, in the north of England, frequently features alongside roast potatoes in the traditional Sunday Roast.

February is the traditional month in which to plant parsnips. Parsnips are a vegetable that have been grown, in their present form, for hundreds of years. They are tougher and less prone to pests and diseases than the majority of the vegetables that we now grow in our gardens.

The reason for planting parsnips early, is that this allow them a long growing season in which to get as large as possible: it is quite common to get parsnips over 18 inches long and weighing more than 2 lb (1 kg).*

To Make a Tart of Parsneps & Scyrrets
Seeth yr roots in water & wine, then pill them & beat them in a morter, with raw eggs & grated bread. bedew them often with rose water & wine, then streyne them & put sugar to them & some juice of leamons, & put it into yr crust; & when yr tart is bakes, cut it up & butter it hot, or you may put some butter into it, when you set it into yr oven, & eat it cold. Ye juice of leamon you may eyther put in or leave out at yr pleasure.
From Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery

Though at first the instructions for this pie seem strange, a closer examination reveals a recipe quite similar to modern pumpkin pie with wine replacing the milk used in the latter. The skirret is a perennial plant sometimes grown as a root vegetable. It has a cluster of sweet, bright white roots which are similar to sweet potatoes, but longer (15-20 cm). Skirrets may be boiled, stewed, or roasted. It was thought in early times to be an aphrodisiac. Some later recipes suggest replacing them with carrots if unavailable.

A modern variation of this pie uses only parsnips, along wiht 4 eggs (for four cups of pulp), one cup of wine, 1/4 cup bread crumbs, sugar and rose water to taste. Most pumpkin pie recipes call for 3/4 cup sugar though parsnips and carrots are generally sweeter than pumpkin. Add one to two tablespoons of butter. Pour into pastry-lined pie pan and bake at 400° for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 350° and bake about 35 minutes longer, or until center is set.

Historical information from Wikipedia the online encyclopedia as well as Jamboree: The Young People’s Real Education Website.

Recipe suggestions by Karen Hess, from Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery.

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