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Root Vegetables: Growing, Cooking, and Baking Buried Treasures


Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.


What You Will Find in This Article

  • When Did It All Begin? (Introduction)
  • Turnips
    • How to grow and harvest
    • Recipes
      • Buttered turnip puree
      • Oven turnip fries
  • Carrots
    • How to grow and harvest
    • Recipes
      • Savory carrot-rice timbales
      • Carrot cake—Carb Diva style
  • Parsnips
    • How to grow and harvest
    • Recipes
      • Roasted parsnips
      • Tomato parsnip soup
  • Beets
    • How to grow and harvest
    • Recipes
      • Hearty beet soup
      • Dark chocolate beet brownies
  • Radishes
    • How to grow and harvest
    • Recipes
      • Carb Diva’s roasted radishes
  • Poll – Which of these root vegetables is your favorite?

When Did It All Begin?

Long before the wooly mammoth was hunted for food, long before organized agriculture, there was the turnip. Yes, it is that old.

Food historians believe that the turnip was cultivated as long as 4,000 or even 5,000 years ago. This member of the cabbage family is easy to grow but was long the foodstuff of the lower class, thus its status as “lowly”—the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables.

However, turnips and actually all root vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world. Because they grow underground, they absorb a vast amount of vitamins and minerals from the soil. So let’s learn how to grow and use these little nutritional powerhouses.



Before potatoes became a mainstay of mankind’s daily diet, there was the turnip. The Babylonians were perhaps the first to cultivate this hardy vegetable which tolerates poor soils and ripens quickly. Is it any wonder that it soon spread westward, was used in ancient India, was cultivated by the Romans, and became a staple in the diet of medieval Europe?

And then, THIS happened. One day the Peruvian potato traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and became the new center of attention at the dinner table. Our ugly little purple tuber fell out of favor until, in 1730, Charles Townshend made a discovery—he found that farm animals enjoyed, yea verily, they thrived on turnips. (And turnips were certainly much less costly than baling hay for the winter.)

But that's not the end of the story. Turnips—they're not just for cattle anymore. Turnips are a fall and winter crop that stores well, so it is available year-round. Extremely versatile—turnips can be baked, boiled, steamed, used in stir-fry, mashed and even eaten raw. They are sweet and tasty, but unlike other root vegetables, they are not terrifically nutrient dense. If you want a real nutritional boost from turnips, eat the tops (greens).

At the produce stand, look for firm skin and leafy greens. Remember that when it comes to turnips—bigger isn't always better. Opt for nothing bigger than 3 inches in diameter

How to Grow and Harvest

Turnip (Brassica rapa) is a member of the mustard family (along with radishes, horseradish, and rutabagas)

  • Hardiness Zones: 3 through 9.
  • Light Requirements: Full Sun.
  • Soil: Loamy.
  • Planting Time: Sow seeds as soon as ground is workable.
  • Spacing: Scatter seed (cover with less than 1/2 inch of soil.
  • Thinning: Once seedlings are 4 inches high, thin “early” types 2 to 4 inches apart and maincrop types to 6 inches apart. Do not thin if growing for greens only.
  • Moisture Requirements: Water at least one inch per week.
  • Harvest: Early types after about 5 weeks; maincrop types after 6 to 10 weeks. The smaller the turnip, the more sweet and tender it will be.

Are you bored with simple mashed potatoes? Tyler Florence developed the following recipe and posted it on the Food Network website:

Buttered Turnip Puree


  • 3 large turnips, peeled and cut into uniform chunks
  • 1 quart of milk
  • 3 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and gently smashed with the side of a knife
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Combine the turnips, milk, thyme, and garlic in a medium saucepan. Set over medium heat and partially cover the pan. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the turnips are tender—the tip of a paring knife should go through without resistance.
  2. Drain the turnips, reserving the cooking liquid, and transfer to a food processor (discard the thyme sprigs). Add about 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid and the butter, season with plenty of salt and pepper and puree until smooth. Add more of the liquid, if necessary. Serve hot.

Oven Turnip Fries

Low-carb is a popular diet choice. Here you substitute turnips for potatoes to make some savory, crunchy "fries."


  • 3 pounds turnips
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with a parchment paper and set aside.
  3. Peel the turnips, and cut into sticks, about ¼ inch thick by 4 inches long.
  4. Place the turnip strips into a large bowl, and toss with the vegetable oil to coat.
  5. Place the Parmesan cheese, garlic salt, paprika, onion powder in a re-sealable plastic bag, and shake to mix.
  6. Place the oiled turnips into the bag, and shake until evenly coated with the spices.
  7. Spread out onto the prepared baking sheet.
  8. Bake in preheated oven until the outside is crispy and the inside is tender, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.


The carrot is a native of what is present-day Afghanistan, Turkestan, and the Hindo Kush region of central Asia. (It is there that red and purple carrots still grow wild.)

Food historians believe that by the 10th century purple carrots were growing in Iran and northern Arabia; from there they spread to northern Africa and into Spain. The orange variety of carrots first appeared in artwork of the 16th century.

In today's commercial marketplace, China currently produces about one-third of all carrots bought and sold worldwide (a staggering 16 million tons!) Russia is the second largest carrot producer, with the United States following a close third.

Like the turnip, carrots are available year-round; they can be used in soups, salads, main dishes, and desserts and, of course, they can be eaten fresh. 75 percent of the carrots consumed in the United States are eaten fresh—they make a tasty snack, are a popular favorite for children's lunchboxes, and (along with apple slices) are replacing french fries at some fast-food establishments.

At the produce stand look for firm, thin carrots. Large diameter carrots are acceptable in long-simmered soups and stews but tend to have a tough central core. If you want to purchase carrots to eat fresh or use in a quick stir-fry choose the more slender ones.

How to Grow and Harvest

Carrot (Daucus carota) is botanically related to parsley, dill, fennel, celery.

  • Hardiness Zones: 4 through 10.
  • Light Requirements: Full Sun.
  • Soil: Loose and sandy (not clay).
  • Planting Time: Sow seeds 3 to 5 weeks before the last spring frost date.
  • Spacing: Plant 3-4 inches apart in rows. Rows should be at least a foot apart.
  • Thinning: Once plants are an inch tall, thin so they stand 3 inches apart. Snip them with scissors instead of pulling them out to prevent damage to the roots of remaining plants.
  • Moisture Requirements: Water at least one inch per week.
  • Harvest: Carrots are mature at about 2 ½ months and when ½ inch in diameter.

Savory Carrot-Rice Timbales


  • 1 cup grated zucchini
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • ½ cup firmly packed grated carrot
  • 1 cup lightly packed chopped spinach leaves
  • 2 cups cooked white rice, cooled
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Cheddar cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Grease 6 muffin cups or 4-ounce ramekins.
  3. Squeeze excess moisture from zucchini and set aside.
  4. Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not allow to brown. Add carrot and cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini, spinach, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine and cook one additional minute.
  5. Remove from heat and transfer vegetable mixture to large bowl. Stir in rice; allow mixture to cool.
  6. Stir eggs and cheeses into rice mixture. Fill the muffin cups or ramekins; press the mixture down to compact (if you omit this step the timbales will not hold together).
  7. Top each with the grated Cheddar cheese.
  8. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve hot.


Parsnips look like carrots in need of a tanning booth. Botanically they are cousins, but are a bit sweeter, higher in vitamins, and are a potassium powerhouse.

Where did they originate? Some think the eastern Mediterranean or Asia. We do know that they were popular with ancient Greeks and Romans, the latter who often ate them with honey for dessert. Like the turnip, parsnips were a common element of the European table until potatoes arrived on the scene.

A word of caution—if you grow your own parsnips be aware that while the root of the parsnip is edible, handling the shoots and leaves of the plant requires caution as the sap is toxic. It is best to use gloves when handling them.

At the produce stand keep in mind the same guidelines as for carrots—fat parsnips have a woody central core. Choose instead the slender, more tender parsnips.

How to Grow and Harvest

Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is closely related to the carrot and parsley

  • Hardiness Zones: 2 through 9.
  • Light Requirements: Full Sun.
  • Soil: Loose and sandy (not clay).
  • Planting Time: Parsnips need a long growing season, so sow as soon as the soil is workable.
  • Spacing: Sow 2 seeds per inch ½ an inch deep.
  • Thinning: Thin the seedlings to stand 3-6 inches apart.
  • Moisture Requirements: Water at least one inch per week.
  • Harvest: Parsnips mature in about 16 weeks. Leave in the ground for a few frosts but harvest before the ground freezes.

Roasted Parsnips


  • 1 12 pounds parsnips, peeled and cut into thin strips
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 14 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced


  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Layer parsnips on a baking sheet in a single layer.
  3. Sprinkle with olive oil, paprika, and salt; toss well to ensure that all pieces are coated with oil.
  4. Roast 15 minutes on bottom rack of oven, stirring twice.
  5. Add the garlic and roast until well browned, about 15 minutes longer.
  6. Let cool slightly and then serve.

In their book New England Soup Factory, Marjorie Druker and Clara Silverstein present 100 soups from their restaurant of the same name. The recipes are well arranged, easy enough for even novice cooks to follow, and are beautifully photographed. If you enjoy homemade soups you must buy this book. And if you are interested in trying a parsnip soup, you must try this entry from page 27 of Marjorie and Clara's book:

Tomato Parsnip Soup


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 large Spanish onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 ribs celery
  • 12 to 15 parsnips, peeled and sliced
  • 6 cups whole peeled tomatoes (canned or fresh)
  • 2 cups tomato juice
  • 4 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 2 cups light cream
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  1. Heat a heavy, lined stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, garlic, onion, celery, and parsnips. Sauté for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato juice, and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the parsnips are soft and tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  2. Puree the soup in the pot using a hand blender or working in batches with a regular blender until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and add the cream, dill, salt, and pepper.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.



The earliest written record of the beet is an 8th century B.C. cuneiform tablet from Babylon, but food historians believe that they might have been cultivated as early as 1,000 B.C. A native of the Mediterranean, the leafy greens were used by the ancient Greeks for flavoring and as a medicant.

Although the ruby red beet is the most common we can now find these beauties in yellow, gold, and candy cane (red and white) stripes. Yellow and gold beets are a bit less sweet than their red counterparts, but they also have a less earthy taste.

When shopping for beets choose small to medium beets with smooth skin and crisp, vibrant dark green leaves.

How to Grow and Harvest

Beets (Beta vulgaris) shares its family roots (pun intended) with Swiss chard.

  • Hardiness Zones: 2 through 10.
  • Light Requirements: Full Sun.
  • Soil: Loose and sandy (not clay). Beets have a high tolerance for salt and so, unlike most other vegetables, can grow on land reclaimed from the sea.
  • Planting Time: Wait until the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees F. before planting. In areas with low moisture and rainfall, soak the seeds for 24 hours before planting.
  • Spacing: Plant seeds ½ inch deep and 1-2 inches apart.
  • Thinning: Thin when they reach about 2 inches high by pinching them off. Pulling them out of the ground may disturb the close surrounding roots of nearby seedlings. Established plants should be thinned to 3–4 inches between plants.
  • Moisture Requirements: Mulch and water well. Beets need to maintain plenty of moisture.
  • Harvest: 50 to 70 days for most varieties, but you may harvest at any time.

Dr. Zhivago Borscht

Is it possible to think of beets and not envision a steaming bowl of borscht? This recipe from Food52 is the best of all recipes for this hearty beet soup.

Beets. Chocolate. Both dark and earthy—a marriage made in Heaven?

This recipe will convince you that beets and dark chocolate are a perfect union indeed.


How to Grow and Harvest

Radish (Raphanus sativus) is a member of the mustard family.

  • Hardiness Zones: 2 through 10.
  • Light Requirements: Full Sun.
  • Soil: Any type.
  • Planting Time: Plant 4-6 weeks before the average date of last frost.
  • Spacing: Direct sow seeds ½ inch to an inch deep and one inch apart in rows 12 inches apart.
  • Thinning: Thin radishes to about an inch apart when the plants are a week old (crowded plants will not grow well). Snip them with scissors instead of pulling them out to prevent damage to the roots of remaining plants.
  • Moisture Requirements: Radishes require well-drained soil with consistent moisture.
  • Harvest: Radishes will be ready to harvest quite rapidly, as soon three weeks after planting for some varieties.

Carb Diva's Roasted Radishes


  • 1 bunch (about 1 pound) assorted small radishes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Wash the radishes. Cut off the root ends and the tops, leaving about 1/2 inch of the stem. Dry and then place in a shallow baking dish. Drizzle oil and melted butter on top, and then sprinkle with sea salt and a few grinds of pepper.
  3. Bake in preheated oven 10-15 minutes.

© 2016 Linda Lum


Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on February 13, 2016:


We'll put it together but it'll take a few weeks as we're going to do the growing as well and see how things turn out (it's a joint project with my Girl so I can't not do it if you know what I mean!)

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on February 13, 2016:

Lawrence - Please don't deprive us of your wisdom on growing carrots. I know it will be a great hub. I'm the just the cook, you are the gardener. Couldn't do it without someone like you to make all of this wonderful produce available.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on February 13, 2016:


I've just had breakfast but this hub is making me hungry again!

Turnips are great and I remember learning about 'Turnip Townsend' and his pioneering insights into crop rotation ( a four year cycle where the crops he grew replaced the nutrients taken out by the previous crops).

You beat me to the hub on Carrots as we're working on showing how they can be grown with almost no space (using toilet rolls) and no roast is complete in our house without roasted parsnip and beetroot!

Great hub


Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on February 02, 2016:

CarbDiva, I don't blame you for not wanting to go the self-publish route. As far as traditional publishing goes, I'd start by looking for agents and/or publishers who specialize in cookbooks (an agent will query several publishers if s/he thinks your book is marketable). You'll have to have it complete, or close to it, in manuscript form because anyone interested will ask you for a few chapters or a "full".

A huge selling point would be (and you should use this when querying agents) is that you include the history of and how to grow the ingredients along with your recipes. The only cookbook I've seen do anything close is The Joy of Cooking. They give some history for each type of recipe they include. I've had my copy for well over thirty years. That tells you how old it is.

Granted, you're not a big name like Ree Drummond or Ina Garten, but you have a unique way of presenting your recipes, as I mentioned above. I'd say, go for it. Start getting your manuscript together and pitch like crazy. You'll never know if your dream will come true if you don't take the steps to make it happen.

I'm behind you 100% and will be the first to buy your cookbook!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on February 01, 2016:

Bravewarrior - My dream (before I die) is to publish a cookbook. I want that more than a perfect garden, slim thighs or white teeth.

But I don't want to go the e-book route. Anyone can do that.

I see so many hard-cover books in the stores that (obviously) were given a wink and nod by the publishers only because of the name of the "author" (insert name of country music, movie, or television food "star" here).

Do you have any suggestions on how to make that happen?

(BTW you have made my little CarbDiva heart go pitty pat). So happy that someone loves me (...or at least my recipes)!!!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on February 01, 2016:

These recipes all sound so delicious! I've only eaten radishes raw; I love them in salads and as crunchy sandwich toppers.

You have so many great recipes (and love the history and growing tips you provide). I find it hard to bookmark and come back to them. Do you have a cookbook available for purchase? If not, please consider compiling one. I have several cookbooks and a 4" binder full of recipes I've found on line or that my mom has sent me. (My binder is busting at the seams).

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 27, 2016:

Thanks Peachpurple. You just might be correct about carrots being the most versatile. I can't imagine eating a turnip cake with cream cheese frosting. {{shiver}}.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on January 26, 2016:

great recipes, I love carrot the most, verstile ingredient for any dish

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 26, 2016:

RTalloni - I am so glad that you enjoyed this. To me root vegetables a such a "wintertime" food--there is so much comfort in those earthy roots. Especially when they are roasted or cooked and pureed into a soup or stew they are sweet and succulent and nourishing. Thank you for your comments.

RTalloni on January 26, 2016:

So appreciate reading through this. Was thinking about using more buried treasures earlier today. I need this info. Am wanting to grow beets and store them for use but all of this is helpful. Thanks.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 26, 2016:

Rachel - One of the dishes that I like to prepare at Thanksgiving is roasting together root vegetables plus Brussels sprouts. Toss in a bit of garlic cloves and/or rosemary. Yum. Thanks for your support.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 26, 2016:

Flourish, I had not tried turnips until about a year ago. It was a pity purchase--they just looked so ugly and abandoned I had to give them a try, and glad that I did.

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on January 26, 2016:

Hi Carb Diva, I have eaten most of these vegetables. All of them except turnips. They are all delicious. I really love them roasted all together. Thanks for all of this information, you make vegetables sound really delicious.

Blessings to you.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 26, 2016:

I love your description of the turnip as the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables. I've never actually had one, just assumed they were yucky. I bet you can make anything taste good.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 26, 2016:

Eric, what a wonderful memory. I think planting a vegetable garden is a wonderful activity to do with your young children. It teaches them so many things--patience, the responsibility of working and taking care of something, and then there is the reward of that first sweet carrot. Tubers are so easy to grow and give a quick reward. Even if you live in an apartment, if you have a balcony with a sunny exposure you can plant carrots or other root vegetables in a pot.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 26, 2016:

Carrots are a favorite. Because I was youngest I got to plant carrots in our garden because they would come up and be ready first. What great histories that I had no idea about. Wow I am eating Chinese carrots sometimes, who would have thought it. That Turnip puree looks great.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 25, 2016:

Jackie - I must admit that I tend to forget about parsnips until Thanksgiving. My daughters always asked for parsnips as part of our meal. Why do I not cook them at other times throughout the year??!! Thanks for stopping by.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on January 25, 2016:

I love them all but parsnips are really special. I love adding a few to soup to add a sweet, unique, extra something!

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