A historic recipe found on The Boston Globe
in Context: Like carrots, parsnips are native to Eurasia and have been eaten there since ancient times. Zohary and Hopf note that the archaeological 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. They warn that “there are some difficulties in distinguishing between parsnip and carrot (which, in Roman times, were white or purple) 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”. The parsnip was much esteemed, and the Emperor Tiberius accepted part of the tribute payable to Rome by Germany in the form of parsnips. In Europe, the vegetable was used as a source of sugar before cane and beet sugars were available. As pastinache comuni, the “common” pastinaca figures in the long list of comestibles enjoyed by the Milanese given by Bonvesin da la Riva in his “Marvels of Milan” (1288).
This plant was introduced to North America simultaneously by the French colonists in Canada and the British in the Thirteen Colonies for use as a root vegetable, but in the mid-19th century, it was replaced as the main source of starch by the potato and consequently was less widely cultivated.
In 1859, a new cultivar called ‘Student’ was developed by James Buckman at the Royal Agricultural College in England. He back-crossed cultivated plants to wild stock, aiming to demonstrate how native plants could be improved by selective breeding. This experiment was so successful, ‘Student’ became the major variety in cultivation in the late 19th century.
Text from Wikipedia