THIS WEEK’S SUBSCRIBER MENU:
• “Acorn” Squash
• “Yukon Gold” Potatoes
• Yellow Onions
• Green Tomatoes
• Sweet Little Carrots
• Fresh Thyme or Italian Parsley
Baby Bok Choi
Baby Bok Choy
Sweet Potatoes for Thanksgiving!
You’ve seen them. They even pass them out in the school lunches. They come in a plastic bag and they’re orange. Sometimes the plastic bag is striped with skinny orange lines to make them look even more orange. “Baby Carrots”. Really, they’re impostors. Here’s a picture of what those “baby” carrots are derived from.
In the seed catalogs they’re called “cut-and-peel” type. They are a very long, very skinny carrot, bred specifically for this purpose. They can cut them into 2″ chunks, toss them in a tumbler with an abrasive surface and presto: you’ve got “peeled, baby carrots”. When selecting breeding stock for these carrots, taste is secondary to straightness and uniformity, because they have to look like baby carrots in a plastic bag. Appearance is everything on a grocery store shelf.
The problem is, these things usually (I say usually, because I have actually had a bag or two that were actually tasty) pale in comparison to a real, frost-sweetened, tender, baby Nantes carrot. Cold temperatures (while the plant is alive, not after picking) actually sweeten the root, because the survivalist in the carrot wisely takes all the sugars from the leaves above ground, and tucks them away underground to protect the carrot’s longevity. The sugar acts like antifreeze and ensure that the root will survive to resprout leaves and, eventually, flowers in the spring. But we don’t really care about that do we? Ask the kids. They want THE SUGAR in those roots. Most “baby” carrots are not grown where it will get cold (think California), and mechanical/tractor harvesting is not feasible after the cold rains begin.
Within the carrot realm, there are several types, and within each of those types are many, many varieties. Countless varieties. There are the “classic” shaped carrots: broad shoulders, long graceful root with a pointy tip. These are the Imperator-type. Then there are the stumpy, cone-shaped carrots that do better in sticky, heavy or rocky soil: these are the Chantenay-type. There are also “Danvers” and “Amsterdam” types, and the novelty round or colored types.
But, the sweetest, most delicate, brittle carrots are in the Nantes family, characterized by their blunt tips. We grow a variety called “Nelson”. It’s relatively quick-growing so we can plant later in August after the carrot rust flies have gone to bed for the winter. It’s sweet and crunchy. And, it keeps well once the weather turns cold. The downside is that the roots fall of the tops in a bunch, so we have to pick and bunch them VERY carefully. But, oh, it’s worth it. Our kids turn down those cut-and-peel “baby” carrots, actually insist that they’re not eating any carrots unless we grew them. Kind of makes us proud.