Carrots: Good & Good For You
ivvga executive director kay pricola
This week we celebrate the 72nd annual Holtville Carrot Festival. Holtville is billed as the Carrot Capital of the World. The festival has lots of events with many of them starting tomorrow and Saturday. So, what is this root vegetable that has a festival named for it right here in the Imperial Valley all about?
Firstly, carrots are big crop for us here. The value of the carrot harvest in 2016 was $10,780,000 and in 2017, $13,264,00. The amount of acreage for this production in 2106 was 14,572 acres, and in 2017, 16,465 acres. Our local farmers, including Osterkamp Farms, Strahm Farms, The Elmore Company, and Artesia Farms grow for two of the largest suppliers of carrot, Grimmway and Bolthouse. Oasis Organics grows carrots for Lakeside Organics.
The carrot, or the Daucus-carota subsp sativus, is usually orange in color, though purple, black, red, white, and yellow varieties exist. Carrots are a domesticated form of the Daucus carota, a wild carrot, native to Europe and southwestern Asia. The plant probably originated in Persia, now Iran, and was originally cultivated for its leaves and seeds. The most commonly eaten part of the plant is the taproot, although the stems and leaves are eaten as well. The domestic carrot has been selectively bred for its greatly enlarged, more palatable, less woody-textured taproot.
The carrot is a biennial plant. At first, it grows a rosette of leaves while building up the enlarged taproot. The roots contain high quantities of alpha and beta-carotene, and are a good source of vitiamin K and vitamin B6n but the belief that eating carrots improves night vision is a myth put forward by the British in World War II to mislead the enemy about their military capabilities. Those tricky British used the carrot as the reason the Royal Air Force had improved success during night air battles rather than disclose the advancement in radar technology and the use of red lights on instrument panels. Nevertheless, the consumption of carrots was advocated in Britain at the time as part of a “Dig for Victory” campaign. A radio program called “The Kitchen Front” encouraged people to grow, store and use carrots in various novel ways, including making carrot jam and Woolton Pie, named for Lord Woolton, the then British Minister for Food. The British public during WWII generally believed that eating carrots would help them see better at night and in 1942 there was a 100,000-ton surplus of carrots from the extra production.
When they were first cultivated, carrots were grown for their aromatic leaves and seeds rather than their roots. Carrot seeds have been found in Switzerland and Southern Germany dating back to 3000 BC. Perhaps that is link the very Swiss community of Holtville.
There are many claims that Dutch growers created orange carrots in the 17th century to honor the Dutch flag at the time. Other authorities argue these claims lack convincing evidence. Modern carrots were described at about this time by the English antiquary John Aubrey. "Carrots were first sown at Beckington in Somersetshire. Some very old Man there [in 1668] did remember their first bringing hither." European settlers introduced the carrot to colonial America in the 17th century.
Carrots are grown from seed and can take up to four months (120 days) to mature, but most cultivars mature within 70 to 80 days under the right conditions. They grow best in full sun but tolerate some shade. The optimum temperature is 61 to 70 °F. The ideal soil is deep, loose and well-drained, sandy or loamy, with a ph of 6.3 to 6.8 (more of the science of farming)
Carrots can be stored for several months in the refrigerator or over winter in a moist, cool place. For long term storage, unwashed carrots can be placed in a bucket between layers of sand, a 50/50 mix of sand and wood shavings, or in soil. A temperature range of 32 to 40 °F is best. Since they are so readily available now, just eat them while they are fresh.
Carrots can be eaten in a variety of ways. They may be chopped and boiled, fried or steamed, and cooked in soups or stews, as well as baby and pet foods. The Pricola household uses them in chicken pot pie (a trick to get Nick to eat chicken), as a carrot and raisin salad and in beef stew.
Since the late 1980s, baby carrots or mini carrots or mini-carrots (carrots that have been peeled and cut into uniform cylinders) have been a popular ready-to-eat snack food. Carrot grower Mike Yurosek, looking for a way to use culls, experimented with peeling and slicing them into bite-size length and selling then under his Bunny Luv Label. Consumers were smitten and carrot sales soared by some reports as much as 50 percent the following year. Grimmway purchased Bunny Luv in the mid-90s and continues to perfect the carrots and automated process used to turn them into baby carrots.
The sweetness of carrots allows the vegetable to be used in some fruit-like roles. Grated carrots are used in carrot-cakes, as well as carrot puddings, an English dish thought to have originated in the early 19th century. Carrots can also be used alone or blended with fruits in jams preserves. Carrot juice is also widely marketed, especially as a health drink, either stand-alone or blended with juices extracted from fruits and other vegetables. In the Pricola house, carrot-cake is a favorite---likely from the Cheesecake Factory.
Enjoy the Holtville Carrot Festival. Remember that year round carrots are good and good for you.