The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

parsnip crisps with smoked salt and thyme

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Rickets is a disease associated with poverty. It was once common in Britain, during the Victorian era, caused by a combination of poor diet and a lack of access to sunlight.

Rickets predominantly affects children, and its elimination in the UK decades ago was rightly regarded as a sign of a civilised, caring society.

But now rickets is making a comeback, along with scurvy and other conditions historically associated with poverty.

Since Christmas 2013, over 800 UK children have been diagnosed with rickets and over 6,500 people have been admitted to British hospitals suffering from malnutrition.

Considering that Britain has the world’s seventh largest economy, how has this happened?

Well, it has happened in the midst of an economic strategy of “austerity” pursued by the current UK government. A combination of wage freezes, zero hours contracts, benefit payment cuts and fuel and food price increases have pushed hundreds of thousands of UK families into poverty since the “austerity programme” began in 2010.

This year, many more thousands of families have become dependent on food banks. The “food bank” was a concept hardly known in 2010, but after four years of “austerity” it has become an increasingly necessary part of life. Without food banks, there would no doubt be even more people in this country facing illness, depravation and disease as a result of poverty.

But food banks are a stop gap, at best, and they depend on donations of mostly non-perishable items, particularly tinned foods, rather than good quality, fresh food: living on hand outs from food banks will not, in the long term, resolve the problems of malnutrition and vitamin deficiency.

Some may argue that the growth in the number of poor and marginalised is regrettable collateral damage, part of the price we must pay for the banking crisis of 2008. But if that is true, if a price has to be paid, why does it seem that the bankers, who did more than most to cause the crisis, have been spared from this “austerity programme”?

Despite insisting that austerity is the medicine we must all swallow (“we’re all in this together”, to quote the Prime Minister, David Cameron), the UK government felt no qualms recently about launching an (unsuccessful) challenge to an EU cap on bankers’ bonuses, which “restricts” bankers’ bonuses to a maximum of double their salary.

200% of salary is not a bad bonus when you consider that the UK has more bankers earning over a million euros per year than the rest of Europe put together. The fact that the Conservative Party relies heavily upon donations from the finance sector is no doubt a mere coincidence.

Like all its predecessors, the current UK government does have choices, both economic and ethical, even when times are tough and options are restricted. It has deliberately chosen an ideological path, using the recession as an opportunity to roll back the state and dismantle the National Health Service. The result is a country that punishes the weak and vulnerable, children in particular, in order to pay for the greed and folly of the carefully protected rich and powerful. We are becoming a country that, increasingly, can no longer claim to be civilised.

peeling parsnipsthyme and smoked sea saltparsnip crisps closeup

OK, on that rather sour note it’s time for me to climb off the soap box and into the stripey apron.

Parsnips are one of the most frustrating vegetables I grow on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden. One year I find myself with a glut, the next – as is the case this year – I end up with a crop of “austerity” proportions. I cannot fathom why each season results in such unpredictable results, and I’m beginning to put it down to sheer bloody-mindedness on the part of the parsnip seeds.

Anyway, this recipe is quick, simple and very tasty, and has none of the dubious additives sometimes found in packets of commercial crisps.

I make my own smoked sea salt using one of my ridiculously large range of kitchen gadgets, in this case a Smoking Gun, but ready smoked sea salt is widely available. It works beautifully with parsnip, as indeed does thyme.

parsnip crisps with smoked salt and thyme


600 g parsnips
2 tsp smoked sea salt
1 tsp dried thyme
groundnut oil, enough for deep frying


1. Scrub the parsnips clean, leaving the skin on. Using a mandolin or vegetable peeler, carefully cut strips of parsnip lengthways and place into a bowl of cold water.

2. In a pestle and mortar, grind the smoked salt and thyme together.

3. Pour the oil in a suitably sized, heavy bottomed pan over a high heat. Drain the shaved parsnip strips and place them onto a tea towel and spread them out. cover with a second tea towel and pat dry, aiming to remove as much moisture as possible. As soon as the oil is hot enough to brown a cube of bread within 30 seconds, the oil is ready.

4. Carefully place the parsnip strips into the hot oil. You will need to do this in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan, which will also cause the temperature of the oil to reduce. Cook the parsnip crisps for about a minute, or until they are a light golden colour. Don’t leave them until they have gone nut brown or they will taste burnt. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. They may appear still soft as you remove them, but they will firm up. Drain on kitchen paper. Repeat with the remaining crisps.

5. Carefully tip the drained crisps into a bowl or onto a tray and sprinkle with the smoked salt and thyme mix.

Categories: dairy free, gluten free, vegan


9 replies

  1. I do so agree with all of your comments. It is the poor who are paying the highest price, how I loathe this government’s ideology. Where are the politicians to speak up for this section of society that seems to be scape goat? I despair. We are like voices crying in the wilderness, why on earth aren’t people rioting in the streets? Thatchers comment about there being no such thing as society has come to pass.

    PS, love the recipe. My parsnips are few and far between this year – grown on sandy soil – but they are giants!

  2. Hi Linda

    Thanks so much for commenting. It is indeed a scandal that there are so few politicians who are prepared to speak up for the dispossessed when so many face such desperate hardship.


  3. I don’t know why we’re told that rickets was a Victorian thing, because I remember seeing people in Birmingham with it in the ’60s and ’70s, especially around Saltley and Vauxhall. That said, those in power now seem to openly relish their cruelty and I wonder where it will end and where the hell we’ll all end up.

    Nice recipe, by the way! I’m reassured that it isn’t just us who get variable results with parsnips, it’s really hit and miss.

  4. Hi Miranda. The existance of rickets in the Saltley and Vauxhall areas of Birmingham in the 60s and 70s is also probably linked to poverty in those areas – both were subject to slum clearance as late as the 1950s.

    If you, of all people, have unpredictable parsnips then I give up hope of ever finding a solution!

    Steve x

    • I think our issue with parsnips is that we’re on clay – the seeds germinate well but are nearly always stunted. The best we ever grew were grown in sandy soil; they were magnificent things with very long roots. Deeper digging on our part is needed, I think!

      As to Saltley and Vauxhall, even though slum clearances had been done that area looked impoverished.


  5. Excellently-written piece, Steve, and we wholeheartedly agree with you.

    As for the parsnips – ours tend to resemble sea monsters, but they taste good! We did reasonably well with ours this year, and this looks a great recipe for them – thanks for sharing!

  6. Hi Steve – great image! We’d love to feature it on our site. Please email us for more details –  Thanks, Cherry


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