Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Crazy for Carrots
When we go on trips here and there, Mollie likes to play the "three' game. We ask each other questions requiring three answers.
Like, "What are your three favourite kinds of trees?"
"What are your three favourite songs?"
And always "What are your three favourite foods?"
Well, for me, carrots are always one of the three.
Good carrots that is.
To me that means freshly pulled, quickly washed and munched noisily. Or properly stored, with the dirt on, washed and eaten.
It means grown without chemicals too. Carrots grown in the ground fertilized with chemicals often have a petroleum taste from these fertilizers. My opinion. Carrots grown in a mineral rich soil have full flavour, earthy and sweet.
Carrots have been with us forever. Well, nearly.
Seeds from carrots were found in the tombs of pharaohs in the third millenium B.C. They were at that point not distinguished from parsnips in literature and were used not for eating but for their pretty and delicate foliage. It was not until the 1700's that they were clearly deemed distinct from parsnips by a Swedish botanist, given the Daucus carota title.
Early carrots were red, yellow, green, white and also purple. It was the Dutch whose work at refining the taste produced the orange carrot, and they used its juice to colour cheese to make it more appealing as well as feeding the carrots to cows to brighten the colour of butter.
Fifty one varieties of carrots are listed in my Seed Savers Exchange yearbook for 2009. Wow- Fifty one! This year I honestly don't know how many varieties I grew, certainly more than twenty. Of these, some are ideal for my heavier clay soil: Paris Market, a lovely round little orange carrot, as well as Oxheart and Danvers, two stump rooted varieties. The lovely French yellow variety Jaune du Doubs, the white Belgium White, the purple Dragon , and Atomic Red. A staple is always the wonderful sweet Scarlet Nantes. It is not scarlet but orange and a tender and juicy treat.
This year I thought I'd explore the purples a bit more, and grew three purple hybrids to compare them to Dragon. Purple Haze, Deep Purple and Purple Pak.
Carrots can be a bit of a challenge to grow well, especially if you have clay soil like mine. I have a terrible time with germination if I don't have a trick or two up my sleeve.
I draw my planting row with my hoe, usually about 3 or 4 inches deep, then fill it with a good compost.
If I don't do this, my sad little seeds can't pop through the soil crust, but with the lovely light compost it is not a problem. The key is to water, water and water, keeping the planting row moist at all times until germination. And then make sure they continue to be well water through the season. This is one crop that can't do well without water. I think the regular watering also ensures they don't fork when they hit that layer of clay beneath the compost....they just keep growing through it.
With carrots an overly rich soil can cause the growth of those little fibrous hairs on the root. They don't really need or want heaving feeding, and do well in your garden rotation if they follow heavy feeders. I've also read about the wisdom of interplanting them with tomatoes. Some people swear they greatly increase tomato production. I don't know if it was effective when I tried it but I'll do it again!.
I like to leave much of my crop in the ground as long as I can. Once they have had some good heavy frosts they become candy-sweet and so, so good. I have tried keeping them in the ground all winter, with a very thick layer of straw covering them. But the temptation was too great for the mice who had a marvellous feast.
When I know the cold weather is going to freeze my ground pretty hard, I dig them all up. To store I lop off the greens,and store them in barrels, layering them with straw. These barrels stay in my garage for the winter, with lids to prevent the mice from enjoying. I see no need to freeze carrots when they store so very well, remaining crisp and sweet when stored this way.
For super long fair-winners, dig a good deep trench as deep as you can go and fill with compost, seeding into the compost. I've won the longest carrot prize with Belgium White. I've never known another carrot to grow quite so long.
Carrots are considered biennials in terms of saving seeds....that is they produce their seed in the second year. In our climate that means digging up your carrots and storing them overwinter, then replanting in the spring. Carrots will cross with other carrot varieties as well as with it's close relative Queen Anne's Lace. Varieties need to be separated or the blossoms bagged to prevent cross pollination.
We eat a lot of raw carrots, but they are very versatile too, showing up in soups, stir fries, baking and more.
One very simple dish that I rely on frequently is a carrot-tofu scramble. I crumble a pound of organic firm tofu into a frying pan with some olive oil in it. Onto this I grate a good bit of carrot, maybe about 2 cups. When my tofu is nicely browned and the carrots are tender, a good sprinkle of soy sauce or Braggs and voila! Even Mollie likes it, so it must be a good thing.
Enjoy your carrots, they are too good to miss out on!