Carrots – Daucus carota by Dave Hamilton

WSelf sufficient Trish holding two carrotshen one is asked to think of a vegetables the carrot nearly always the first thing to spring to mind. “In a recent Mori poll conducted for The National Trust Magazine the carrot came top of the vegetable league, closely followed by the potato.” – National Trust Website.

They have been eaten in many forms for centuries and their popularity has to be in part due do their versatility as a vegetable. They can be roasted, boiled, mashed, used to sweeten cakes, made into soups and in the Middle East they are even made into sweets. So where do they come from and do they really help you see in the dark?

Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.

Jim Davis (Garfield)

History

The modern carrot is inarguably descended from the spindly white rooted wild carrot, forms of which are found all over Asia, Europe and Africa .  Remains of wild carrot seeds have been found in Neolithic sites in Switzerland and in 8th Century BC Babylon. However it is though that in both cases it was the leaves and seeds and not the roots that were used, usually as a pot herb.

It seems the next big leap from the wild carrot to the domestic carrot would have happened in the Hindu Kush.  This area, around Northern Afghanistan is where amongst other things, red and purple carrots still grow wild. These botanical throwbacks are coloured red or purple due to the presences of a pigment known as anthocyanin – a pigment also contained in red cabbage. It is thought that these carrots would have been amongst the first to be improved through selective breeding and to this day purple carrots are still grown, sold and eaten in this area of central Asia.

Later mutations of these carrots would have lost the anthocyanin slowly giving rise to the beta carotene rich orange carrot we know today. This change did not happen overnight, as late as the 14th and 15th Century purple carrots were seen throughout Northern Europe alongside yellow and even white ones.

The purple coloured carrots did however gradually lose favour and this change in taste was recorded in one 17th Century Dutch painting clearly showing orange rather than purple carrots.

In times of rationing during the Second World War carrots were grown as a substitute for sugar and the now ubiquitous carrot cake or ‘healthy cake’ came into its own.

Nutrition

Most people were told when they we’re young they should eat carrots as it would help them see in the dark.  Unfortunately this is a myth made up by British intelligence during the Second World War. Rumours were circulated that British RAF pilots were fed carrots to help them see in the dark and to the Germans this would appear to be the case following a number of night-time raids.   The truth was however, the story was invented so the Germans would not be alerted to the fact that the allies had radar.

“Rumours were circulated that British RAF pilots were fed carrots to help them see in the dark. The truth was however, the story was invented so the Germans would not be alerted to the fact that the allies had radar.”

Like all good stories it does have some basis in fact – Carrots are high in beta-carotene (sometimes shown as β-Carotene).  This is converted into Vitamin A in the body (also known as retinol). A deficiency of this vitamin can cause night blindness and in more

Extreme cases can cause a malfunction of the tear ducts which can lead to blindness.

A single carrot can contain as much as 750 micrograms of vitamin A and the RNI (recommended nutrient intake) is 700 and 600 micrograms respectively for an adult man and woman.

Growing

Carrots do well in a very light loamy soil and not too well in thick clay; the gardening guru Monty Don suggests mixing a little sharp sand in to your soil to lighten you soil.

This is not something I have tried as yet as I tend to find a light patch of ground each year at my allotment to grow my carrots. I seem to have a mix of soil types on my patch presumably the legacy of previous plot holders.

As with parsnips all stones should be removed from the ground to aid long unrestricted growth. If planting to show it may be an idea to make a hole the size you want the carrot to be with a metal rod then filling with compost.

Carrots follow on from brassicas in crop rotation along with other roots such as parsnips.

As for timing, for the UK, Northern Europe, and Parts of North America you can risk a planting of carrots under a cloche in mid February for an early crop but March to April is more usual. I am going to risk an early sowing this year as I feel with global warming our winters are getting mild enough to do this, (One very small consolation I guess).  Carrots take around 2 and half to three and half months to grow to full size and can be planted every month from late February/early March until September in the UK. In a similar way to potatoes carrots are split into main crop and earlies. The earlies are usually small, stubby rooted and the main crops are the long and slender carrots familiar to supermarket shoppers. The times of planting are similar in the rest of the world and carrots should be sown without protection mainly after the risk of the last frost has gone.

If growing for seed the carrot should be treated as a biennial. As it is a close relative the mature plant will look similar to cow parsley or hogweed. The characteristic root of a carrot is an energy store for an umbel of flowers which if left will contain more than enough seeds for next years crop.

Carrot fly

Carrot fly can detect the scent of carrots from over half a mile away and are confused by the over-powering smell of alliums, so it is worth planting chives, shallots, garlic, onions or leeks next to your carrots.

Another method of deterring the carrot fly, which I find quite hilarious, is to have a physical barrier of around a foot high (30cm) surrounding your carrots as this insect can only travel below this level. Maybe hilarious is too strong a word but this does amuse me as it reminds me of putting dog biscuits on a top shelf so your dog can’t get to them. It may be that a barrier is inevitably placed anyway in the form of edging or raised beds.  I tried this method last year and was untroubled with the dreaded carrot fly.

However, by far the easiest advice to take is not to pull your carrots until you need them. Carrot fly also can only detect uprooted carrots. The trick is to pull all your carrots at once so that no carrot flies will smell them.

Recipes

Carrot Burgers

This is something I often make for the ‘meat’ part of a meal, it’s a great accompaniment to beans and potatoes.

Ingredients

Makes 6 small burgers

  • 2 Grated Carrots
  • Some flour
  • Herbs and spices of your choice
  • Drop of soy sauce

Method

  1. Mix the grated carrot with the spices/herbs
  2. Sprinkle in the flour
  3. Add the soy sauce
  4. Squeeze the mixture unto small ‘burger’ shapes
  5. Fry in a little oil until browned on eat side.

Carrot and Coriander Soup

Ingredients

Carrots
Onions – ideally red onions
Chicken or Vegetable stock
Fresh Coriander
Oil

Method

Fry the onions in a little oil – use ½ and onion per person, fry until translucent

Cover in stock, chop the carrots and add to the pan, 1 large or 2 small carrot per person.  Add enough stock to cover the carrots bring to the boil then simmer until carrots are softened. Add a handful of fresh coriander or a good pinch if using powdered.

Serve with crusty bread and a little cream or crème fresh.

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