General Description: The carrot (Daucus carota sativus) is a biennial plant in the Umbelliferae family. Carrots were cultivated in Afghanistan as a food crop in the 7th century, but, with their purple exteriors and yellow flesh, they did not resemble those of today. Carrots slowly spread into the Mediterranean with the Moors, and in the 1600s, patriotic Dutch farmers bred orange carrots to honor the royal House of Orange. Carrots were brought by the colonists to the New World.

Versatile, brightly colored, and honey-sweet, carrots are loaded with beta-carotene, from which we get vitamin A. Easily paired with both savory and sweet, carrots are featured in both main courses and desserts.

Today you can find purple, white, gold, and round carrots. Most “baby carrots” are actually larger carrots that have been cut and peeled from a special variety of carrot that is grown close together, resulting in smaller, more tender carrots. More than 25 percent of carrots grown in California end up as “mini peeled carrots.”

Season: Carrots are found year-round, with peak season from October through April. Fresh young bunch carrots with their tops are found in spring.

Purchase: Carrots should be well-shaped with smooth exteriors and closely trimmed tops. For the freshest, most tender carrots, buy bunches with bright green leaf tops. These are by necessity picked days before sale because the tops deteriorate quickly. Baby carrots should be moist and plump, not slimy, broken up, or whitish.

Avoid: Do not purchase flabby, soft, wilted, or split carrots. The tops should not be at all dark, slimy, yellowed, or sprouting. Examine the carrots to determine brightness of color, often an indication of sweetness.

Storage: Carrots will keep in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to 10 days. Remove green tops before storing as they will draw moisture from the roots. Carrots should be stored away from apples, pears, and other produce that create ethylene gas, which causes them to become bitter.

Preparation: # Peel lightly, or scrub with an abrasive cleaning pad or special brush. Many of the carrot’s nutrients are in the skin, but it is also where much of the bitterness lies.

  1. Trim off the top and bottom.
  2. When cut open, large carrots may have a tough yellow, stringy core, which should be cut away.

Note: Mini peeled carrots require no preparation. However, if they turn white from refrigerator dehydration, place them in cold water for a few minutes and they will become vivid orange again.

Serving Suggestions: Shred raw carrot and mix with olive oil, lemon juice, and rosemary to make a salad. Make carrot confit by slow-cooking carrots with olive oil, orange juice, cumin, lemon juice, and garlic. Add carrots to beef stew, tomato sauce, vegetable soups, or stir-fries. Make carrot cake, carrot torte, or carrot pudding.

Flavor Affinities: Beef, celery, chicken, chives, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, curry, dill, dried apricots, honey, onion, orange, raisins, rosemary, shallots, tarragon, thyme, tomato.

from Quirk Books: