Th e colourf ul • history of •
THE WILD ANCESTORS of modern day carrots were purple and yellow, not orange. They most likely came from the dry, hot lands of Persia (modern day Afghanistan and Iran) and are still popular there.
Seeds of these Asiatic/eastern or anthocyanin carrots (anthocyanin pigments producing the purple colour) were brought west by the Arabs around the 10th century AD.
The western or carotene carrot was first described in Iran and northern Arabia in the 10th century and is thought to have developed from yellow mutants of the purple carrot. In Persia purple carrots were preferred for flavour, despite staining cooking utensils. Europe preferred the ‘more refined’ yellow carrots. Orange carrots first appeared in Spain in the 1500s followed by France, Germany, and eventually Holland in the 1600s. There is no clear evidence for carrots being used as a root crop before the 10th century. Unravelling this mystery
is not helped by classical and medieval writing which often confused carrots with parsnips, referring to them both as pastinacea, parsnip’s generic name.
Exactly when carotene carrots first appeared is also unclear. Before them, carrots and parsnips looked very similar, both being thin and woody and rather yellow (sometimes referred to as white).
The name Daucus was first added to distinguish carrot from parsnip by Galen in the 2nd century AD, but it was not until 1753 that the Swedish botanist, Linnaeus (in Species Plantarum) formally separated the two species: Daucus carota (carrot) and Pastinacea sativa (parsnip).
What is known is that the long, orange Dutch cultivar, the forebear of the orange varieties abundant today, was developed by Dutch growers in the 16th century.
Some historians have suggested the orange carrot was bred to honour William of Orange, but it’s more likely it was bred for its superior taste, sweetness, reduced woody core and attractive orange colour.
Whatever its genesis, during the rise and fall of the House of Orange the carrot became a bit of a political football. Patriots revolting against the house declared that orange was “the colour of sedition... carrots sold with their roots too conspicuously showing were deemed provocative.” How you would sell carrots without their roots showing
TRUE: the largest carrot ever grown was a whopping 8.6kg, grown by John Evans in Palmer, Alaska. FALSE: British pilots did not increase their night vision in WW2 by eating massive quantities of carrots – this was a myth spread to cover up the significant advancements made by the Allies in radar technology. TRUE: carrots were extensively promoted for their vitamin A in the United Kingdom during WWII to reduce use of rationed foods. ‘Dr Carrot’, carrying a bag of Vitamin A, promoted carrots for health and revived old recipes for cakes, puddings, jams and even a carrot drink called Carolade.
“This is a food war. Every extra row of vegetables in allotments saves shipping. The battle on the kitchen front cannot be won without help from the kitchen garden.” TRUE: in the reign of James I (1603-1625) it was high fashion for ladies to wear carrot leaves in their head-dresses. TRUE: massive over-consumption of carrots can result in orange skin as vitamin A is fat soluble and will store in the body.
the Romans believed carrot seeds were aphrodisiacs. METHOD Whisk garlic, ginger, lime juice and zest, oil and coriander and mix with shaved carrots.
Healthy and delicious!
At the end of summer several local families gather to share in the crushing of the surplus apples for juice. We combine the event with our end of summer harvest celebration, where we bring our produce from orchards and gardens and cook up a huge communal feast.
Our local skilled woodworkers have created a big scale copy of the traditional juicer you may be familiar with. This one (pictured at right) is the size of a barrel and very strong with rimu sides, stainless steel bindings, a wooden lid, and a giant threaded steel crusher with a long handle. Many hands make light work, and the blokes and kids always gravitate to the juicer. The impressive bath of apples was full of windfalls, and the previous few days’ harvesting of the last of the tree-ripened apples of summer. These are the biggest, ripest fruit and high in sugar. The bath of water washes them and deters the wasps for a short while. You want to be juicing pretty soon though to prevent rot. Bad apples are thrown out from the bath and the good ones transferred to buckets.