Vegetables tend to take a back seat on the dinner table and sometimes it can be difficult to get people to eat them. That does not take away from the fact that they are important to good nutrition with a host of side benefits from choosing them.
Take for example, the carrot. Bugs Bunny set the example of munching on carrots, but for some reason not everyone wants to be like Bugs Bunny. Nevertheless, according to scholars at Purdue University, carrots are the second most popular vegetable in the world next to the potato. It is a good choice because they provide all kinds of nutrients, like carotene, which work in the human body to make vitamin A. The vegetable is an excellent source of that vitamin and also provides iron, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. It is also an excellent source of antioxidants.
Nowadays there are some “designer” carrots that have added new interest to the vegetable. You can find them in shades of red, pink, yellow, white and maroon. However, these designer shades are not new. Orange carrots are actually the newest color. Colorful carrots have a long history of human use around the world.
Lavender carrots were part of the ancient Roman and Greek diet. Evidently the spindly, branched, purple varieties tasted good, but looked awful when cooking turned them a muddy brown. If you are hungry, what difference is muddy brown? The Greeks and Romans were not concerned about color — they considered them aphrodisiacs.
The vegetable apparently originated in Afghanistan as a spindly branched purple root. Conical, non-branched carrots may have arrived in Asia and Europe by the 12th Century and sometime in the mid- 1500s a pale yellow mutation appeared in Western Europe. They also grew in shades of purple, red and black. However, orange varieties didn’t appear until the middle of the 1700s when Dutch growers, aiming to produce a less bitter version of carrots, developed the orange carrot. When the royal family in the Netherlands — where orange is the national color, adopted it — its success was assured.
The Dutch enjoyed carrots themselves and also fed them to their cows which, in turn, produced rich milk and yellow butter. There are those who credited the carrot with turning Dutchmen’s cheeks rosy.
The Jamestown colony in America planted carrots between tobacco crops. Thomas Jefferson was an avid gardener and horticulturist, and kept superb records of his gardens and crops. He grew several colors of carrots at his home. Colonial butter makers often colored their butter by adding carrot juice to the churn.
The early Americans found some uncommon uses for carrots, such as carrot jam and carrot wine. During World War II, the British government encouraged their citizens to use more carrots. Inventive housewives rose to the occasion making toffee, marmalade, and a nonalcoholic drink called carrolade from crushed carrots and rutabagas. In addition they found that the vegetable adapts to pies, cakes, tarts and carrot puddings made by mixing mashed carrots with eggs, cream, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and sherry wine.
Carrot flavor is influenced by weather, soil and growing conditions, and research at Texas A&M University has found that depleted soils produce less nutritious carrots. Variety is the main factor for growing good carrots. Harsh flavor comes from terpenoids and sweet flavor comes from sugar. A balance of the two makes just the right flavor.
During cold storage, starches are metabolized to sugar. The cool temperatures discourage sugar breakdown so carrots become sweeter. That is a very good reason to store them in the refrigerator — they will taste better longer. They also take longer to dry for food storage when they’ve been in cold storage since sugar holds moisture.
Purchase well formed, well colored and smooth carrots and avoid large, green, sunburned areas at the top and flabby, wilted roots or those that show some decay. You may find that some growing in your garden are misshapen. There is nothing nutritionally wrong with them but they are harder to peel and work with.
Carrots lend themselves to a variety of dishes fitting all the parts of a meal: appetizers, soups, salads, main dishes, side dishes and desserts. Serve them plain, embellished, or mixed with other foods to bring out their delicious flavor. Carrots are delicious raw, steamed or boiled. They make wonderful garnishes and you might find that kids are more interested in raw carrots if they are prepared as something of a novelty.
Make carrot curls by using a vegetable peeler to cut thin slices from pared carrots. Roll up each slice and fasten with a toothpick. Chill in ice water. Remove toothpick before serving.
Cut carrots into 1/4 inch wheels and remove center. Fill center with cream cheese or a filling. This makes a wonderful garnish or hors d’oeuvre.
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups grated carrots
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts
Bake at 450 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Ice while warm. Icing for Carrot Cookies 1 cup powdered sugar Grated rind of 1/2 or 1 orange (suited to your taste) Juice of 1/2 orange 1 tablespoon softened butter 1/2 teaspoon coconut or lemon flavoring Mix together until smooth. Spread on warm cookies.
Oatmeal Carrot Cookies
2 cups grated carrots
2 tablespoons water
2 cups shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons soda
2 tablespoons hot water
4 cups oatmeal
Peanuts, coconut, raisons or chocolate chips (optional)
Combine carrots and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan. Cover and cook in microwave for about 30 seconds or until carrots are barely tender. Cream together shortening and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and blend. Mix in flour and salt along with soda dissolved in 2 tablespoons of hot water. Add oatmeal and undrained carrots. Add peanuts, coconut, raisins or chocolate chips if desired. Drop by teaspoonfuls on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Take off cookie sheet immediately. For crisp cookies, store uncovered. For softer ones, store in covered container.
Grated Carrots in White Sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups grated carrots
Prepare white sauce, cooking until thick. Add grated carrots and cook for two or three minutes longer.