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All the world is nuts about

    What's in The Nut Gourmet

The Nutty Gourmet

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On the Highest Perch



AND THE 24 CARROT AWARD GOES TO . . .


Pecans at a Glance
History Uses Name Origin Folklore/Oddities Medical Benefits
Growing Nutrition Purchasing Preparation Recipe

Bugs Bunny knows a good thing when he plucks a stolen carrot from Elmer Fudd's garden, takes a bite, and declares,"Eh, what's up doc?" Bugs even eats the green carrot tops recognizing that carrots, tops and all, are among the most nutritious foods on the planet.

Despite their goodness, carrots had to be taught to be sweet by enthusiastic green thumb gardeners who took an interest in improving their flavor. Probably no one would be eating carrots that were once small, very thin, red, purple, and even black taproots with a distasteful bitterness if no one had taken an interest in improving their flavor. Luckily, some motivated folks took carrots under their horticultural wings and taught them how to be sweet.

History
Today the wild carrot grows throughout Europe and in Western Asia, from Afghanistan and westward into Turkey. Both continents are home to archeological sites where ancient seeds were found in prehistoric lake dwellings in Switzerland as well as the 8th century BCE royal gardens of Babylon, an area that is now a part of Iraq. Evidence shows the Babylonians appreciated the pleasing fragrance from the leaves and seeds of carrot plants and grew them as aromatic herbs rather than eating them for their roots.

Some historians believe the carrot's origins are rooted in Afghanistan where purple and deep red varieties can still be found growing. Because it was common to confuse the carrot and the parsnip, the Greek physician Galen named the wild carrot Daucus pastinaca, though confusion remained steadfast until botanist Linnaeus set the record straight in the 18th century with his system of plant classification. The scientific name he gave the carrot is Daucus carota, the parsnip Pasticaca sativa.

During the first century CE, the Greeks cultivated a variety of root crops that included leeks, onions, radishes, turnips, and a poorly developed variety of carrots. The unpleasant tasting carrots were rarely eaten but were applied medicinally. Though the Greeks excelled in cultivating many food plants, they never succeeded in developing the carrot into a flavorful vegetable. Even Galen, the 2nd century physician at the court of Marcus Aurelius, stated that the wild carrot is less fit to be eaten than the cultivated variety. Carrots

Charlemagne, the 8th century ruler of France, welcomed new fruits and vegetables into his royal gardens and set aside an area for growing carrots, though their flavor did not win them a great deal of acceptance there either. To lessen their appeal, the purple carrots turned brown when cooked. Worse still, any liquid and foods cooked in the same pot also turned brown.

Centuries passed before the carrot received additional mention in historical literature. During that period the carrot traveled westward into the Mediterranean countries. Arab writer Ibn al-Awam gave a definitive description of two varieties of carrots he encountered in the early part of the 12th century: a red one he says is tasty and juicy and the other, a yellow and green carrot, he calls coarser and of inferior flavor. Al-Awam writes that carrots were served with a dressing of oil and vinegar or added to vegetable mixtures and cereals, probably grains.

Al-Awam who lived in Andalusia, a region in southern Spain, noted that Arab travelers brought carrots from their homeland to the European continent. The curious carrot traversed the route eastward via European travelers and explorers to set its roots into India and the Far East during the 13th century. By the 14th century the Netherlands, France and Germany were introduced to the carrot. It took another century to reach England's shores during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

After Columbus' first visit to the Caribbean in 1492, the islands became the melting pot of the world with explorers from Europe, Asia, Africa, and America who each brought plants, animals, and customs from their homelands. By the 1600's carrots along with cabbages, onions, and garlic were growing on many of the islands. The cultivated European carrot was even found growing on an island off the coast of Venezuela when it was discovered in 1565.

During the 16th century avid Dutch horticulturists began improving the color and flavor of this new vegetable. The purple variety fell out of favor quickly, bringing the brighter yellow carrot into the spotlight. A white carrot appeared as an anomaly in Germany during the mid 16th century and now occasionally appears in agricultural harvests. The truly orange carrot, indicating the presence of beta carotene, is attributed to Dutch cultivation and is depicted in Flemish paintings of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Bert Greene in his Greene on Greens & Grains tells us that although the Dutch were avid growers of carrots and applied their craft in developing a genuinely sweet carrot, they apparently did not eat many of them. Rather, the carrots they grew were fed to their prized Holstein cows. Throughout Europe the Dutch became known for producing the richest, yellowest butter, owing this success to their cows' regular carrot feed.

During the 17th and 18th centuries foods from many parts of the globe arrived in the New World at a steady pace. Vegetables like carrots, cabbages, and turnips, though not yet commonplace, began their transition from the home garden to the beginnings of the commercial farm. Carrots also made a favorable impression on native American Indians who eagerly adopted them because of their bright orange color and novel flavor.

By the mid 1800's a number of English middle and upper class people emigrated to Australia to assume positions as officers and administrators in the penal colonies. They made their journey by ship with hearty portions of chickens, venison, ham, suet puddings, beer, ale, and vegetables that included carrots, cabbages, and Brussels sprouts.

Following World War I carrots came into popularity in the U.S. because several American travelers visited Europe, tasted the uncommon roots, and thought them novel enough to stir interest. Shortly after, farmers began growing carrots in Michigan and California. Today, most commercial carrots grown in the United States come from California, Texas, and Michigan.

The Carrot in Other Cuisines
Because of their natural sweetness, carrots were used during the Middle Ages to sweeten cakes and desserts throughout Europe. The British were known for their steamed puddings that frequently included carrots or parsnips as sweeteners. By the 18th and 19th centuries British cookbooks often included carrots in their pudding recipes.

In Asia, carrots are made into preserves, jams, and even syrups. In Central Asia and Iran bright orange carrots are shredded to garnish their dishes, while India features carrots in their Halva and Khir, two pudding-like desserts enjoyed even today.

The carrot cake's roots reach across the ocean into English soil. During the Second World War the Ministry of Food published recipes for carrot cake and Christmas pudding along with other carrot recipes.

Greene writes that buttered carrots, considered common today, are thought to have originated in the royal kitchens of Queen Elizabeth I of England when a Dutchman presented her with a diamond studded wreath of bright orange carrots and a tub of butter from his country. Without hesitation, she plucked off the diamonds and sent a servant to the kitchen with the carrots and butter. The royal chef combined the ingredients giving birth to the classic dish of buttered carrots.

Castelvetro, an Italian chef of the 17th century, took delight in sprinkling pepper on carrots that were pink and yellow, the only ones available to him.

Flemish Carrots prepared with a recipe from the 1800's began by simmering them in water, butter, salt and pepper. Then the carrots were finished with a little sugar, a pinch of chopped parsley, two egg yolks, and a little cream.

Carrots The Dutch love their carrot soup with cream, herbs, celery, mushrooms, and bacon. Tsimmes, a slow cooking casserole made with prunes, is an old favorite of Eastern European Jews. Carrot Dumplings are a favorite of the Amish, while the Finnish add carrots to lighten their meatballs

Medicinal Benefits
Dioscorides, physician and surgeon of Roman Emperor Nero's army, discovered that the Greeks used carrots in the treatment of cancerous tumors. He also recommended using the wild carrot seeds to relieve bladder infection, to bring on menstruation, and as first aid for venomous snakebites.

Like many foods eaten in excess, carrots can produce unhealthful results too. Carotene, the pigment that gives carrots and other yellow fruits and vegetables their color, can cause jaundice when consumed in excessive quantities. Some people who have imbibed large quantities of carrot juice in a relatively short time developed a yellow hue to their skin. Though the yellowing of the skin from indulging in a heavy dose of carrots is seldom serious and will disappear in a few days days, continued carrot gorging can cause medical problems. In 1974 one unfortunate English health advocate named Basil Brown consumed 10 gallons of carrot juice and took 10,000 times the recommended RDA of vitamin A in a period of 10 days. Those 10 days were the unfortunate man's undoing--his skin turned bright yellow and he died of severe liver damage.

During the first century CE the ancient Greeks and Romans rarely ate the bitter carrots but used them instead for medicinal purposes. Any ulcerous sores were treated with a compress of ground up carrots. Carrots were prescribed as a stomach tonic and believed to improve eyesight.

That carrots contribute to improved eyesight is no myth. The high content of vitamin A is beneficial and contributes to the function of the retina of the eyes. During World War II, Royal Air Force pilots were urged to consume carrots to maintain good eyesight. Because beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant, eating carrots frequently may help prevent cataracts.

Researchers at the USDA found that study participants who consumed 2 carrots a day were able to lower their cholesterol levels about 20 percent due to a soluble fiber called calcium pectate.

During the Middle Ages physicians prescribed carrots for all sorts of ills including syphillis and dog bites.

While today's carrot contains beta carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A, the purple carrots of ancient times possessed anthocyanin, the same phytochemical in vegetables such as purple cabbage and the skin of the eggplant. Because beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant, carrots are considered important in preventing cancer and lowering cholesterol.

Folklore and Oddities
Carrot tops were considered a fashion statement when worn by the ladies of the English court. The lacy green foliage provided an attractive hair ornament or an adornment on their hats.

Carrots were prepared as a love potion by the ancient Greeks. The carrot was thought to endow men with the power of passion, while compelling women to become more submissive.

In his book Moveable Feasts, Gregory McNamee says, "Caligula, the mad Roman emperor, once ordered the senate to convene and then fed the assembled dignitaries a banquet of carrot dishes, hoping that it would produce a delightful orgy for his viewing pleasure."

"Greek legend maintains that the soldiers who hid in the famous Trojan horse consumed lavish quantities of raw carrot in order to render their bowels inactive during confinement," says Jack E. Staub in his book 75 Exciting Vegetables for your Garden. Taking a different view, the Roman invaders fed carrot broth to their female hostages in hope of unfettering their straight-laced demeanor.

Carrot juice and marigold petals were the first colorants used to enhance the appearance of pale colored European cheeses. Today synthetic beta carotene is a common additive used to color cheese.

While the root and leaves of the carrot were used as a yellow dye in 16th and 17th century Europe, carrots are still used in France to brighten the color of pale butter.

The Carrot Gets its Name
The Greeks called the carrot Philon or Philtron from their word philo that means loving. However, the carrot's Latin name Daucus carota most influenced its present name that came from the French who named it carotte. Carrots

Growing
Daucus carota refers to the wild carrot. The modern, domesticated or cultivated carrot is classified as D. carota var sativa and belongs to the botanical group Umbelliferae. Other family members include celery, anise, caraway, dill, coriander, cumin, chervil, fennel, parsley, and parsnip, as well as Queen Anne's Lace and poison hemlock.

Queen Anne's Lace is the ancestor of today's cultivated carrot that may in its second year of growth develop the typical umbelliferous flat-topped flowers of its ancient past. The carrot's attractive foliage grows about 10 to 12 inches (25.5 to 30 cm) in height

Carrots thrive in a garden that gets plenty of sunshine and grow best in deep, moist, sandy soil with good drainage. Choose carrot varieties that are suited to the type of soil in your garden. Loose, deep soil will do well with long, thin varieties, while more compacted soil is best for growing shorter, thicker carrots.

To start the carrot patch from seed, cover with finely sifted compost, fine sand, or vermiculite and water gently. Either scatter the seeds in a row and thin them out or plant seeds at 1-inch (2.5 cm) intervals in a more contained space such as two or three square feet. The mature carrots can be harvested in about 45 days and another crop planted in their place.

Carrots thrive best in cooler climates where the temperatures range between 40 and 80 degrees F (4.4 and 26.7 C). and the maximum temperature does not exceed 88 degrees F (31 C). Apply two fertilizer applications during the growing season, one when the foliage is 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm) tall and another at 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) tall. After each feeding, cover the tops of the roots with one-half-inch (1 cm) of soil to prevent sunburn. This will also prevent loss of sweetness.

The rust fly can be a problem for carrots by burrowing deep into the soil and attacking the roots. Growers suggest interplanting carrots with onions and annual flowers to discourage this unwelcome pest.

The carrot gets its exceptional flavor from its seeds that contain essential oils, a feature that belongs to only two botanical families, the carrot family and the mint family. The seeds themselves are considered complete fruits.

Today the home gardener can choose from many carrot varieties, from the short globe-shaped baby carrots to extra long tapered roots. Short 'n Sweet, Thumbelina, and Parmex fall into the short, stubby, or baby carrot range; Fly Away, Nantes Express, and Chantenay Royal are medium length roots; Blaze, Artist, Chamberley, and Ingot are varieties that fall into the 7 to 9-inch (18 to 23 cm) range. One can even purchase seeds of heirloom varieties like Danver's Half Long, Red Cored Chantenay, Scarlet Nantes, and St. Valery.

Nutrition
A carrot a day ought to join the apple a day motto for its outstanding health benefits. Carrots contain beta carotene, one of 600 carotenoids that are pigments that give yellow and orange fruits, vegetables, flowers, and autumn leaves their color. The beta carotene in carrots assists the vegetable in converting to vitamin A. While animal foods contain vitamin A, fruits and vegetables contain only the vitamin's precursors--the carotenoids.

One large raw carrot packs a whopping 20,253 IU of beta carotene yet has only 31 calories. Now that's a dieter's delight! With 1 gram of protein and 2 grams of fiber, this crunchy treat has only 7 grams of carbohydrate and zero fat.

Carrots are packed with nutrients. Raw carrots contain vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and offer10.1 mcg of folic acid. Load your body with 233 mg of potassium in one large raw carrot that even contains vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and 19.4 mg of calcium. Additionally, the minerals zinc, cobalt, fluorine, silicon, and chlorophyll make an appearance along with the amino acids arganine, lysine, phenylanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

A medium cooked carrot contains slightly lower figures but still offers plenty of nutrition with 11,295 IU of beta carotene, 6.4 mcg of folic acid, and 14.3 mg of calcium. Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6 are also represented while potassium offers 104 mg. Like the raw carrot, in its cooked form the medium carrot offers 1 gram of protein and 2 grams of fiber. Carrots

For anyone eating on the run, one cup of fresh carrot juice can offer a quick energy boost with its 2 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, and only 94 calories. The beta carotene fix measures up 25,833 IU along with a healthy dose of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and 9 mcg of folic acid. A hearty 56.6 mg of calcium and 689 mg of potassium go hand in hand with 20.1 mg. of vitamin C and a bit of iron and zinc in addition.

Carrot tops are an outstanding source of chlorophyll, the green pigment that studies have shown to combat the growth of tumors. Chlorophyll contains cleansing properties that purify the blood, lymph nodes, and adrenal glands. Scientists have been unable to synthesize chlorophyll in the laboratory, but green plant foods contain sufficient quantities to protect the human body.

Potent antioxidants are among carrots' best features. These include the monoterpenes that protect against heart disease and cancer and polyacetylenes that inhibit tumor growth. The beta carotene prevents cataracts and premature aging.

Carrots contain a small amount of vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin that helps with blood clotting and prevents the body from losing calcium loss through urination.

On the sweetness scale among vegetables, beets score the highest. Carrots rank second with a sugar content of 7 percent.

Purchasing
Commercially grown carrots are planted at regular intervals throughout the year, making them available to the consumer all year long. Look for carrots that are bright orange in color and that have a smooth skin. Bright color and smooth texture are indicators of a sweet, flavorful carrot. Plump, deep green, attached carrot tops are a true sign of freshness. Carrots with their tops still attached are always sold in bunches. Size does not usually determine the sweetness of a carrot--baby carrots as well as giant ones can be equally sweet. If the greens are wilted and turning yellow or brown, the carrots have lost their freshness and, no doubt, some of their nutrients.

Carrots with a rough, pale, or cracked skin are seldom sweet. A rim of green color at the top of the carrot indicates it may have become sunburned and will frequently have a bitter flavor. Old carrots can be recognized by their limp, shriveled appearance. Another sign of an aging carrot is roots that are beginning to sprout along the surface of the skin.

Don't toss those perky looking carrot tops into the trash--they're completely edible and highly nutritious.

Miniature carrots have become popular items in the produce market, but may lack nutritious qualities. Some miniature varieties have a delicate, pastel orange color, a tell-tale sign they have diminished beta carotene content. Others, with a stubby miniature appearance, are not genuine miniatures but may have been mechanically trimmed from large carrots to resemble the baby carrots.

Loose or packaged carrots without the tops are generally not as fresh as those with the greens attached. However, some can be surprisingly sweet.

One pound of loose carrots or 1 bunch with tops will provide 3 to 4 servings, while one pound of grated carrots yield about 3 cups.

Storing
Though most refrigerators operate at about 40 degrees F (4.4 C), the ideal storage temperature for carrots is 32 degrees F (0 C). Because they contain dissolved sugars and salts, they don't freeze until the temperature drops several degrees below the freezing point.

Plastic bags prevent carrots from drying out, though long storage in plastic will deny them needed oxygen. It's best to purchase only what you will use within a week.

Because carrot tops tend to pull moisture from the carrots, the tops should be cut or twisted off and stored separately. Store carrots in a perforated plastic bag or an open plastic bag to allow air to circulate.

Avoid storing carrots close to fruits such as apples and pears. Many fruits create ethylene gas that hastens ripening and may affect the carrots.

Preparation
Carrots can be sliced, diced, shredded, or grated, and can be boiled, steamed, sautéed, fried, baked, roasted, or mashed. They are among the most versatile vegetables in the garden. They stand alone as a side dish or blend with other items to form casseroles, salads, soups, and main dishes. Carrots can also be added to cakes and muffins.

To peel or not to peel, that is the question. For aesthetic reasons most people prefer to peel their carrots. Restaurants never serve unpeeled carrots, caterers and haute cuisine chefs would never serve unpeeled carrots, and highly respected cooking schools teach students to peel the carrots. Yet, most of the carrot's nutritive elements are just under the skin and get peeled off into the garbage or compost heap.

Wash carrots thoroughly under running water and use a vegetable brush to remove earthy bits of debris that cling the skin. But, for goodness sake, leave the peel on! The goodness of this practice will be a decided health benefit.

Raw
For ease and convenience, nothing compares to a well-scrubbed, fresh organic carrot. Nature has provided a veggie or two that requires absolutely no preparation at all. Just wash and eat--it doesn't get much easier than that.

However, if you're inclined to putter a little, simply shred a carrot or two on the coarse grater, finely shred some green and red cabbage, and dress your slaw with a little oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

The traditional carrot salad with raisins and nuts can go equally as well with some variations like chopped dried fruits and sunflower seeds. For an exotic touch try adding a teaspoon or more of rose water or orange blossom water available in Middle Eastern markets.

Grate or dice carrots into a tossed salad. The added color is eye appealing, while the extra vitamins and minerals provide health benefits.

Carrot sticks pack well in a lunch sack, add color and crunch to a relish tray, and provide the ideal finger food to serve with dips. Try crinkle cutting carrots served with dips--they appear more inviting and hold more dip that clings to the zig-zag indentations.

Juicing aficionados will appreciate the refreshing flavor and energy boost a glass of carrot juice can offer. And don't overlook the chlorophyll-packed carrot tops that add nutrients to a juiced green drink.

Add some finely chopped carrot tops to a tossed salad. Those chopped carrot greens even make a nice addition to tabbouli salad. Carrots

Steamed
Slice carrots thinly, and put them into a saucepan with a cover. Bring them to a boil over high heat, turn heat down to low, and steam for about 5 to 6 minutes. Cut into thin julienne, carrots will steam in about 4 minutes.

After steaming carrots, puree them in a food processor. A little of the cooking water may be added for a smoother puree. Spices like cinnamon and nutmeg add a pleasant touch to really sweet carrots. If the carrots are not sweet, add a pinch of salt and some cumin, coriander, or dill.

Steam parsnips along with the carrots and puree them together for a delightfully sweet side dish.

Roasted
Cut small carrots in half lengthwise, large ones into thirds lengthwise. Arrange them on a lightly oiled baking sheet and roast open at 375 F (Gas Mark 5) for 25 to 35 minutes. If desired, toss them with canola oil before roasting.

Enjoy a great start to a festive December gathering with a hearty ladleful of soup from the steaming kettle. With its rich flavor and savory fragrance, this aromatic soup that shines the spotlight on carrots goes well with almost any entr&eacite;e. Serve the soup with the herb garnishes, croutons, and chardonnay wine at the table as optional add-ins.


CALIFORNIA CARROT BISQUE

6 C. (1 liter + 480 ml) water or vegetable broth
1 3/4 lbs. (.8 kg) carrots, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 lbs. (.7 kg) russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 small sweet potato (about 8 oz. or 230 g) peeled and cut into chunks

1 medium onion, chopped
1/3 C. (80 ml) water

1 bunch fresh dill, minced
1 T. + 1 t. lemon juice
1 1/4 t. salt or to taste

Garnish

2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 T. fresh parsley, chopped
1 to 2 T. fresh chives, minced
3 T. fresh sorrel, minced (optional)
Croutons
1 C. (240 ml) kosher chardonnay wine

  1. Combine the water, carrots, russet potatoes, and sweet potato in an 8-quart (2 liter) stock pot. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to medium and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
  2. While carrots and potatoes are cooking, sauté onion in water in a medium skillet. Cook until transparent and soft, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a food processor or blender.
  3. Add carrots, potatoes, and onions and their liquid to food processor or blender in batches. Puree completely and return to stock pot. If you prefer a smoother puree, use the blender instead.
  4. Measure 3 T. minced dill into a small bowl, and set aside for garnish. Add remaining dill to stock pot along with lemon juice and salt. Adjust seasoning if needed.
  5. For the garnish, combine the garlic, parsley, chives, and sorrel together in the bowl with the reserved minced dill. Pass the bowl around the table for guests to sprinkle a little into their soup. Serve the croutons in a separate bowl, and pour the wine into a small pitcher to serve at the table as additional soup accompaniments. Serves 6 to 8.


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