Exploring Carrots: Facts, Folklore, and Fun Recipes - Delishably - Food and Drink
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Exploring Carrots: Facts, Folklore, and Fun Recipes

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

exploring-carrots

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

— Jim Davis ("Garfield" cartoonist)

When and Where Did It All Begin?

Long before organized agriculture, even before the wooly mammoth was hunted for food, there were root vegetables—yes, turnips, parsnips and carrots are that old.

Of all foodstuffs, root vegetables have been cultivated for eons, probably because they are incredibly easy to grow. Food historians believe the turnip was cultivated as long as 4,000 or even 5,000 years ago. But don’t let those humble beginnings cause you to categorize root vegetables as of lesser importance. Consider this—root vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world. They grow underground and so absorb a vast amount of vitamins and minerals from the soil. They are super-foods!

Most researchers believe that a carrot-like root originated in central Asia, near present-day Afghanistan and Turkestan (red and purple carrots still grow wild there today.) By the 10th century, purple carrots were growing in Iran and northern Arabia; from there they spread to northern Africa and into Spain.

And Then...

From the 10th century to the early 16th century, the carrot was growing in popularity (pardon the pun), but not as a foodstuff. Herbalists believed carrot seeds capable of curing kidney stones, pleurisy, and infertility; a poultice of carrots was used to treat animal bites and cancerous lesions

By the mid-16th century, Holland was leading the pack in the cultivation of the carrot, and the brightly-colored root was deemed attractive enough to gain a prominent place in several Dutch Masters paintings. Ultimately carrots found their way into stews, soups, and puddings and in 1749 carrots were being exported from England by the Dutch East India Company.

We Started Cooking

In 1723 John Nott compiled “The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary; or, The Accomplish'd Housewife's Companion”—a very early reference to recipes with carrots as the main ingredient:

Take half a pint of cream, two penny loaves, grated, and a quarter of a pound of beef suet, and as much red carrot well boil’d, a little rosewater, the yolks of four and whites of two eggs, a quarter of a pound of melted butter, a spoonful of flour, and sugar to your palate, stir them well together; let it be pretty thin, butter a dish, put it in and bake it: when it is bak’d, turn it into a dish the bottom upward, sauce it with butter, sugar, and lime juice.

Outside the Oval Office

Thomas Jefferson was the 3rd President of the United States, and was also a skilled horticulturalist. His Monticello garden was an experimental laboratory, a gathering place for plants from around the world.

His 8-acre garden held an amazing collection of hundreds of vegetable cultivars, grottoes, and fruit tree groves. And it is here that he raised several varieties of carrots—18 bushels in 1814.

By the way, at about this same time in our Nation’s history, there was one minor slip, an error that became a happy accident for lovers of “wildflowers.” Some carrot seeds escaped the environs of cultivation and became the delicate “Queen Anne’s Lace.”

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne's Lace

And We Went Rogue!

But even “tame” carrots had a wild side. According to the U.K. Museum of Carrots:

By the 1800's horticultural growers were producing roots of a colossal size. Some were two feet in length with a girth of twelve inches and weighing four pounds each. Carrots were widely cultivated in the walled gardens of country estates. Growers were continually experimenting with strains to create the perfect "show roots". Come the 19th century, carrots were widely grown and began their descent into the ordinary alongside onions and potatoes. This certainly was not a bad thing, as obviously some foodstuffs have to take the role as workhorse recipe ingredients. And carrots certainly do it well, whether it's the leading taste in a soup, cake or refreshing drink, or bit-player in stock, salad or stew.

But, There Is Even More to the Story

You have no doubt heard that carrots are good for your eyes; is this an old wives tale or is it true? And where did the notion of a carrots-eyesight connection come from? For this part of the story, we need to fast-forward to the Second World War in Europe where carrots became more than a colorful tidbit in our steak and kidney pie.

It was during the war that two imaginative, conniving (and convincing) ideas were spread throughout Europe: (1) the success of the RAF (Royal Air Force) in night-flying and target location was due to exceptional eyesight, and (2) their keen eyesight was fueled by the consumption of carrots.

These two ideas have been twisted to fabricate a third (but untrue) story—that the Germans were fooled into believing that the RAF had super-human eyesight. The Germans were well aware of the technology being used by the RAF (onboard radar), but the general public was not. It was the citizens of England, not the Germans, who were the target of the propaganda campaign. But why?

During the war, many foodstuffs (beef, flour, and sugar to name a few) were rationed. But humble vegetables (such as carrots) were in oversupply. The hope of improved nighttime vision was welcomed by the citizens of Great Britain where blackouts were being enforced and so carrots went from bland to bling.

What About Today?

Believe it or not, China currently produces about one-third of all carrots bought and sold worldwide (a staggering 16 million tons!) Russia is the second-largest carrot producer, with the United States following a close third.

Of all of the carrots consumed in the United States, 75 percent are eaten fresh—they make a tasty snack, are a popular favorite for children's lunchboxes, and (along with apple slices) are replacing French fries at some fast-food establishments.

So, how will you use the other 25 percent? Here are a few suggestions from the internet and my recipe box:

How to Grow and Harvest

  • The carrot (Daucus carota) is botanically related to parsley, dill, fennel, celery.
  • Hardiness Zones: 4 through 10.
  • Light Requirements: Full Sun.
  • Soil: Loose and sandy (not clay).
  • Planting Time: Sow seeds 3 to 5 weeks before the last spring frost date.
  • Spacing: Plant 3–4 inches apart in rows. Rows should be at least a foot apart.
  • Thinning: Once plants are an inch tall, thin so they stand 3 inches apart. Snip them with scissors instead of pulling them out to prevent damage to the roots of remaining plants.
  • Moisture Requirements: Water at least one inch per week.
  • Harvest: Carrots are mature at about 2 ½ months and when ½ inch in diameter.

Carrot Taco Shells

Carine is a French mom living in New Zealand. On her blog Sweetashoney.com.nz she promises "clean food and easy recipes." Her recipe for taco shells made from grated carrots sounds interesting. By the way, in case you are wondering, a size 6 egg (which is what he recipe calls for) is a USDA size "small."

Thai-Chicken Tacos

While we're on the subject of tacos, the Thai-inspired chicken tacos with peanut sauce by Jaclyn of CookingClassy (with a sprinkle of fancy) are to die for! Think tacos can only be tex-mex flavored? Think again. Although carrots are not the star of the show, they add to the flavor, color, and crunch of these imaginative taco treats.

Carrot Souffle

This recipe is mine, and perhaps souffle is a bit of a misnomer. This is not your typical fluffy, eggy, light-as-a-feather souffle; it is dense and rich. This could easily be a vegetarian meal, or if you take smaller slices, a wonderful side dish (in place of potatoes or rice) with chicken or a mild fish. If you like the Stouffer's Spinach souffle, you will enjoy this.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • salt and pepper to taste

instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Place the carrots, onion, water, and thyme in a saucepan with a lid. Cook 20 minutes or until carrots are very tender. Drain
  3. Puree carrot/onion mixture in a food processor. Add eggs, flour, and seasoning and pulse until well blended.
  4. Pour mixture into lightly-greased 9-inch spring form pan. Bake in preheated oven 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Grated Carrot Salad

The "traditional" French carrot salad is a simple mix of grated carrots, fresh garlic, dill, and olive oil. Chickpeas, which are full of fiber and a source of protein, can take this from simple side dish to full meal.

Ingredients

  • 2 cans chickpeas (15 ounces each), rinsed and drained, or 3 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 2 cups grated carrots (about ¾ pound or 5 to 6 medium carrots, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater or in a food processor fitted with a grating attachment)
  • ⅔ cup chopped celery (about 2 long stalks)
  • ½ cup thinly sliced green onions (about 4)
  • ½ cup chopped fresh dill leaves (I used one 0.75 ounce package)
  • ½ cup pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 medium-to-large clove garlic, pressed or minced
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl. For best flavor, allow the salad to rest for at least 30 minutes or overnight (covered) in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.

NOTE: You can add even more flavor and interest to this salad by adding crumbled feta cheese and/or Kalamata olives.

Sweet Science

"If you’re eating carrots raw, you’ll find that grating enhances their flavor. This is because the more times a carrot is cut, the more its sugars and hydrocarbons are released — meaning grated carrots taste fresher and sweeter."

— Christopher Kimball, Milk Street

Carb Diva Perfect Carrot Cake

exploring-carrots

My favorite cake. My birthday cake. The perfect carrot cake. For me, this is even better than chocolate!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups shredded carrots, raw
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 8-oz. can crushed pineapple, drained

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease and flour a 9x13-inch cake pan.
  3. Sift together the first 6 ingredients (flour through nutmeg) and set aside. Place the sugar, oil, applesauce, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Mix together with a spoon.
  4. Add the dry (flour) mixture, and then stir in the carrots, coconut, walnuts, and pineapple.
  5. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 45 minutes. Cool and frost with your favorite cream cheese frosting.

What makes this recipe work?

  • The addition of applesauce serves two purposes—first, it substitutes for some of the cooking oil. And the acid of the apples reacts with the baking soda to provide more lift (leavening) to this dense cake batter.
  • Flaked coconut and pineapple provide some natural sweetness.
  • Chopped walnuts contribute texture and a satisfying crunch.

Moroccan Carrot-Red Lentil Soup

Allow me to introduce you to Julia. The introduction to her blog tells us that she is a "...wife, mom to three growing boys, lover of food. Here you will find quick & easy weeknight meal ideas, kid-friendly recipes, and a few sweet treats. My roots are from the Mediterranean and many of my recipes incorporate those flavors!"

Her Moroccan carrot red lentil soup is certainly Mediterranean, quick, and an easy weeknight meal idea.

© 2017 Linda Lum

Comments

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 23, 2019:

Linda, Gabe and I are on your track about vegetables. But also love soups. That lentil carrot soup sounds great. So am going to try to counterbalance with Pho. Just like I am trying to slowly adapt to about fifty fifty white and brown rice. Baby steps around here.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on March 23, 2019:

Wow, I didn't know it could be that easy. Fresh carrots are so sweet I don't think I would cook them. Do the grated carrot salad or just wash and eat. You're a lucky guy.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 23, 2019:

Linda my carrots are getting ready - "winter" crop. So I just type Linda Lum carrots into google and get an article. With Salmon it took me to your "index" and I was good to go. That is great!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on March 23, 2019:

Lisa Bean it's my pleasure and I'm glad that you enjoyed it. Have a wonderful day.

Lisa Bean from Nevada on March 22, 2019:

There was a lot of neat info in this article! Thanks for sharing :)

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 25, 2017:

I'm with you there, too, Diva. I can do without the icing on carrot cake. I'm going to print your recipe and add it to my collection.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 24, 2017:

Shauna - The funny thing about me and cake is that the only part of chocolate cake that I like is the fudgy frosting. But when I have a slice of carrot cake, REALLY good carrot cake, I don't want the frosting at all.

And, on your birthday I think you can easily rationalize that it's vegetables, and nuts and fruit (which are healthy, right?) and have a big slice (or two). Thanks so much for stopping by.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 24, 2017:

Interesting history on carrots, Diva! Carrot taco shells sound interesting. I'll have to take a better look at the recipe.

And I'm with you on carrot cake. That's always my request for my birthday, too! I'll take carrot cake over chocolate anything any day!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 12, 2017:

Jackie - I love parsnips too. Why do we (or is it just me) cook them only at Thanksgiving?

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on May 12, 2017:

I love carrots only second to parsnips. Great info and thanks for the recipes!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 21, 2017:

Eric - Oh how I wish we could grow a vegetable garden. Send me a few photos and I'll enjoy yours vicariously. Funny about you OD'ing on carotene. You must have REALLY been eating a lot of carrots!

Thank you for stopping by, for your kind words, and for the shout-out on the book.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 21, 2017:

Fantastic. We are planting some tomorrow. Baby carrots are where it is at. My wife got into smoothies with carrots and I just loved them and over drank them. And doctor buddy saw me by chance and freaked and got me into an emergency room. Too many carrots and it actually changes the tone of your skin to that of someone suffering severe jaundice. We still laugh about it.

Loved this history and will soon be getting to your new book "Past & Present: History of the Foods We Eat"

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 21, 2017:

Venkat - Thank you for your kind words. Yes, carrots are very versatile. We use them in place of winter squash (pumpkins). I always have a large bag of them on hand. The white carrots are not actually white--more of a pale yellow. We have red and purple, but they are very expensive.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on April 21, 2017:

Very interesting and informative article on Carrots. But, I have never seen white carrots. We have the red, purple, orange, and yellow ones here.

I love the carrots and consider it to be very healthy food with its various uses. I prepare different types of dishes with it. Salad, fry, steam cooked, grated ones and most favorite sweet pudding also.

Thanks, Linda, for sharing all this beautiful information here.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 20, 2017:

Mary - I agree that the smaller carrots are better--the really big ones have a core that tends to be tough. Roasting the carrots in a hot oven is also a good recipe.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on April 20, 2017:

I love carrots but here in Brazil they are huge! If this was the UK, those would only be suitable for the horses. I tend to seek out the smaller ones in the grocery store.

Love the selection of recipes. The next time I make Mexican food, I am grating some carrots to use in the mixture.

Carrot cake is one of my favorites as well.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 20, 2017:

Actually Bill carrots aren't for bunnies. Let them nibble a bit, but they are better off eating hay and other greens. Oh, and thanks for the compliment. Have a great day. The weather is supposed to be warm and sunny tomorrow.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 20, 2017:

How's this: you explore them and I'll just keep feeding them to the rabbits? Deal? No way we eat our carrots, not with hungry bunnies around. :)

Happy Thursday you talented writer you!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 19, 2017:

Hi Paula - And, if you read every little tidbit in this article, you know that shaving those carrots makes them even sweeter. Carrots are one of those veggies that are available year-round.

Thanks for stopping by.

Suzie from Carson City on April 19, 2017:

Diva.....Here, here to the carrot! I use carrot shavings in so many salads (macaroni, potato, Italian Pasta Salad & always a green salad. I love just munching on peeled carrots with or without a veggie dip.....and CARROT CAKE?? Oh my! YUM!!!!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 19, 2017:

Oh Flourish, your words make me laugh, and your upbeat spirit makes my heart sing. Thank you so much for your presence on Hub pages and for being my friend.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 19, 2017:

I add carrots to my potato soup as well as to broccoli cheddar soup, as they add color, flavor, and texture. I also love carrot cake. Now I have that on the brain and cannot shake it. This was chock full of great information. I had no idea wabbits don't woke cawwots (or rather cawwots don't woke them).