My son, Graydon, was about three and a half when he came running half naked through the kitchen one morning while I was cleaning up. “I’m hungry Papa, so make me lunch!” he shouted. “Make it quick, and make it crunchy!” I told him to eat a carrot.
Children can be wiggy about what they eat, so the carrot, with its inherent versatility, is an almost perfect food. For kids that need to everything be “theirs,” eating a whole baby carrot can be a satisfying experience; when a larger carrot split into pieces is absent there’s the chance of being served a smaller piece, or fewer pieces, than a rival sibling. Orange seems to be a comforting color for food, too, whereas all kinds of suspicious, sickening things are green.
Of course, with baby carrots the young diner always faces the potential trauma of being confronted with a flawed or crooked root. Food corporations handle this existential issue well by taking larger carrots and mechanically lathing them into perfectly rounded facsimiles of baby carrots, thus achieving a level of uniformity that many children find comforting.
And then there’s the whole issue of carrot flavor to consider. For centuries the carrot’s natural sweetness was enough to make it an attractive vegetable to people and beasts. My donkey comes to the fence every time she sees me, because she hopes to get a carrot. If you want to see an “Oscar level” expression of disgust, just look into my indignant ass’s face when she expects a carrot and I offer her a handful of cabbage leaves instead.
Flavor is still an important component of the carrot eating experience, though these days it is customary for many cooks to focus more on the flavor of the dip they serve with the carrot than the natural flavor of the root. Many consumers only eat the pre-bagged, pre-peeled “baby” carrots. These “value added” carrots are treated with an antiseptic solution for “long life” in refrigerator storage and they often smell like a high school swimming pool, so it helps if the dip is flavored strongly enough to over-ride any lingering chlorine essence.
My favorite “baby carrot” is a variety called “Minicor.”. They have been developed to be harvested young so they plump up fast. They are small, but they’re not really babies, as in “infantile”—more like adolescents. Sometimes the so-called baby carrots don’t always have the depth of flavor that comes with mature, deeply rooted winter carrots, but they have their own charms. When I was a kid I didn’t like to eat cooked carrots—actually, I didn’t think there was anything nastier on earth than a cooked carrot, but I now that I’m old and grey and most of my taste buds have died, I like to cook baby carrots. Here’s my favorite recipe:
Put the carrots in a pan (washed, not peeled) with a pat of butter, a pinch of salt, and a splash of white wine, and steam them till they’re halfway cooked. Then remove the carrots from the flame, garnish them with minced fresh parsley and tumble it all around. The heat of the carrots will wilt the minced herbs, the melted butter helps the savory herbs cling to the roots, and a delicious aroma rises up. I like to apply a final twist of black pepper, and serve the carrots warm.
Carrots are members of the Umbellifer family, along with cilantro, chervil, fennel, parsley, and celery. Many members of the Umbelliferae make excellent garnishes for carrots. If you buy your carrots fresh by the bunch, and not embalmed in a bag, then the greens, minced finely, might make a pretty good garnish themselves. Stir the garnish into the baby carrots just as you remove them from the heat, so the garnish wilts and releases it’s aroma without cooking down into sludge.
If you have any kids in the house who turn up their noses at any flecks of green garnish contaminating the purity of the orange carrots, or if you cook for a partner who is close to “the child within,” remind them how lucky they are to be alive in the modern era. In the infancy of humanity, when all of us wandered naked through the forests, it was the carrot’s greens that we ate, since the carrot plant’s roots had not yet been improved by agriculturalists into a sweet, quick, crunchy snack crop.
And dip? Well, The first dips that humanity discovered was probably yogurt made from donkey, horse, yak, sheep, cow, or camel milk, with some crushed herbs and salt mixed in. That still sounds pretty good, even if it requires a little work. Back in the stone age, the quick-fix, emotionally satisfying, commercial, salty, pre-made dips that come in plastic tubs or packets were still far off in humanity’s adult future, along with tax deadlines, hydrogen bombs, and this laptop computer I’m writing to you on. Convenience took a long coming.
copyright 2007 Andy Griffin