Maybe this winter of our discontent gets the credit for reintroducing me to carrots. For it was mere weeks before the area’s frosty tundra/snow globe imitation that my daughter plunked a bag of carrots into our cart at Trader Joe’s. I’d probably overlooked them on 100 previous shopping trips, but this time—perhaps like a prescient squirrel feeding up hard on the birds’ food because it senses a winter storm—I latched on.
They were gorgeous. I had to have them. They were different colors!
Some were burgundy, some candied lemon-peel yellow, some a sort of subdued salmon orange. And, even more delightful, the burgundy ones, freed from the bag and slit open, had a dashing yellow stripe down the middle, known to the pros as a core.
Now, I didn’t really need the colors, nope. My grandfather Red Scott refused to eat carrots as a boy because he’d heard they made hair curly and he already had a head full of despised strawberry blond ringlets. But I’d taken after the carrot-loving side of the family. I don’t need to be duped into eating carrots, just alerted to their loveliness. (Oh, wait, it was bread crusts my granddad wouldn’t eat, sorry. This coming into spring weather is slowing me down, like the proverbial molasses.)
Maybe it was kind of childish that I ate all the purple/yellow carrot sticks so no one else could have them on our trek to Seattle by car. But they were all good, and stayed crunchy through Idaho, Wyoming, Utah.
Which brings me to a surly remark independent of the winter. Who needs so-called baby carrots, now labeled “baby-cut” for honesty’s sake? They have been parted from their skins and cut from the inside of real carrots. They can be watery. They’re not real and now I can add that they only come in orange.
But back to Tennessee, humming Dolly’s “Coat of Many Colors,” there to buy another bag of multicolor carrots—organic, to boot, this time from Three Rivers Market.
I also do a bit of research. From no less than the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog, I find out that “carrots are originally from central Asia” and “purple and red types are actually the original ones!”
The lead gardener at that venerable rare- and heirloom-seed company, Jere Gettle, also flat-out states “yellow carrots always taste the best … they are so crunchy and full of juice.” Who am I to argue? (Now that spring beckons and I am no longer in the season of sub-par contentment, that is.)
I learn that long-rooted carrots need deep, loose soil. Too-heavy soil can make them “fork.” In East Tennessee’s clay soil, it’s much easier to grow half-long or round types, like Atlas. Which tend to be orange. Only.
At this, I feel the grumpiness surge again—am I to be deprived of locally grown carrots in many hues? The grocery ones both came in from California.
But then I remember Jessica Hammonds, who I first met back in April 2009, peddling home-grown carrots for Organicism Farms at the then-fledgling Market Square Farmer’s Market. I call up her business Facebook page (it’s now Organicism Farms and Foods and she’s chef and sole owner). Boom! The whole background photo is carrots—carrots of every color!
Turns out she is a big fan. “They are so fun!” she tells me, and I wager the winter left her cheeriness completely untouched. “The different colors have different flavors. I’ve grown some really nice white carrots—so sweet and buttery tasting. My favorite is probably Purple Haze, which is this really dark purple outside and the middle this bright orange—they are the coolest thing ever.”
We concur that washing these beauties is sufficient—no peeling—and that the experts who say to blanch carrots before roasting are wasting our precious time. “I just cut the tops low without cutting them off and roast the whole carrots with herbs and oil,” she says.
Hammonds will mostly be cooking this year, while her mother, Jeanne LeDoux-Hickman, runs the Mockingbird Farm CSA from their land.
But she’ll grow some, too, for the catering, and she’s captivated by this new thing where people grow carrots (including long-root color carrots) in plastic kiddie pools, which they can fill with sandy, deep, nutritious soil.
I’m captivated, too. “Wow,” I think. “I bet those kiddie pools come in some really cool colors.”
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