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Sweet Treat Carrots
by Ginny Stibolt

Sweet treat carrots.  Photo by Stibolt.

Freshly pulled carrots from the garden.

As a transplanted gardener, one of the pleasures of being here in northern Florida is that we can have vegetables from the garden year round.  In early October I planted mixed greens, Swiss chard, chives, parsley, onions, and carrots.  About two weeks ago, I started harvesting the carrots, but soon it became clear that I really needed to pull them all: they were ready.  But before I tell you more about our carrots and how we used them, a bit of history and trivia.

The Traveling Carrots

Carrots (Daucus carota) are in the same family as parsley, dill, fennel, and other herbs from the Mediterranean region, Apiaceae.  Most are biennials and develop a taproot to store energy for flowering the second year.  The tiny flowers are arranged in a flat or slightly rounded head.  In the very center of the carrot flower head there is one dark purple flower while the rest of the flowers are an off white.  The other herbs have been cultivated for their leaves, while carrot breeding has centered on its root characteristics.  Its ancestor is native to Afghanistan region and probably had a bitter, woody, and purple root.  The carrot has been under cultivation for 5000 years.  Through selection for taste and medicinal qualities and with some breeding with a white-rooted variant from North Africa, breeders in the Netherlands eventually produced our modern sweet orange carrot in the 1700s.  It was highly prized during the reign of William of Orange.

The carrot arrived in the New World before the Mayflower.  It soon escaped cultivation and you probably know these escaped carrots as Queen Anne's lace.  In many parts of the country it is an invasive weed.  I haven't seen Queen Anne's lace in Florida, but it does occur in some of the panhandle counties.  There is an American relative, wild American carrot (D. pusillus), that is somewhat more widespread across northern Florida.  It is differentiated from Queen Anne's lace by a fringe of leaves around the flower heads.  This would be a great addition to your butterfly garden because it's a larval food source for the black swallowtail butterfly.

Politics and horticulture are sometimes at odds. While horticulturally we would consider the carrot to be a vegetable, the European Union declared carrots to be fruits in its jam directive in 1979 when it set standards for how much "fruit" was to be in jams. Also, in 1893, the U.S. Supreme Court, to settle a dispute over import taxes, classified tomatoes as vegetables despite the fact that their seed content clearly defines them as a fruit.

Cultivating Carrots 

I bought my carrot seeds from Burpee.  The cultivar is "Sweet Treat".  Here is their description: "70 days. 5" long. Very sweet and crunchy.  This sugary Japanese kuroda type has tapered spike-shaped roots.  One of the tastiest carrots we've ever offered."  You can see how I was lured to this variety.

I planted the first two short rows in early October, then planted the second crop in December, and I've just planted the third crop.  We'll probably be planting the tomatoes in between this last set of carrots. 

Our vegetable bed has loose, friable soil where we've dug in a fair amount of horse manure over the last three years.  Carrots really need the soft substrate with no rocks so the roots will be nice and straight.  

Preparing for carrot soup. Photo by Stibolt.

These carrots are indeed very sweet and when they are fresh from the garden, they do not need to be peeled.  Because the first crop was ready to be pulled, we had a lot of them to use.  

<< I decided to make some carrot soup and gathered the ingredients.  I'm not sure where this recipe first came from, but I've been using it for the last twenty years or so.  I no longer have the original recipe, so every time I make it, it's is a variation.  I looked online and didn't find any other recipes that used pasta for body.  

In a soup pot, brown in olive oil 1&1/2 medium onions, 2/3 c of chopped celery, 1/4 c sunflower seeds, 1/4 c barley, 1 tsp fresh rosemary, and a generous tblsp of garlic.  As these ingredients brown, chop 8 fat carrots and add to the browning veggies.  Stir frequently.  As the onions become translucent, add 2 c of chicken stock* and 6 c of water.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 25 minutes until carrots become soft.  Add spaghetti--an inch in diameter if you hold it in a bunch.  Also add 2 or 3 springs of parsley and several wild garlic leaves.  Simmer 10 more minutes until everything is soft.  Remove from burner and let it cool for 20 minutes or more.  Run the ingredients through a blender until mostly smooth.  Stir in 1&1/2 c of nonfat plain yogurt and 1/4 c grated parmesan cheese.  Garnish with a dollop of yogurt, chopped onion greens, freshly ground pepper, and dried dill weed.

This is a hearty soup is good hot or cold.  I was surprised to see how yellow it was using our freshly pulled Sweet Treat carrots. Delicious! >>

It's not too late--plant some carrots and enjoy a crunchy winter sweet treat.

*I make my own chicken stock and freeze it for use in soups.  I buy a family pack of thighs, remove the skin, and boil them in 9 or 10 cups of water with a finely chopped onion and 3 tblsp of garlic. Of course I use the meat, too.  (In the photo above, the stock (top right) is still frozen.  I didn't plan ahead.)

Resources:
For a detailed look at the history of carrots: www.carrotmuseum.com.
Information & photos on butterflies and their caterpillars including the black swallowtail, so you know what to look for:  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/IN032 


Ginny Stibolt would like to hear from readers who have suggestions and questions. After all, there are more than a few transplanted gardeners here in northeast Florida trying to figure out what works and what doesn't in planting zone 8/9. She's in the process of writing a book, "Sustainable Gardening for Florida," to be published by University Press of Florida.

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