To celebrate the Eat Local Challenge that is going on this month, we’d like to highlight one of our very favorite locally grown root vegetables: carrots! Their eye-popping color, satisfying crunch, and sweet, juicy flavor make them a staple in school lunches and a perennial bestseller in the Produce department. They are a nutritious and highly versatile vegetable, and fall is a perfect time to add a carrot recipe or two into your repertoire.
Locally Grown and Legendary
We are proud to be able to provide locally sourced carrots for much of the year at the Willy Street Co-op, but none are more highly anticipated than the iconic “Tipi carrots” from Tipi Produce, a certified organic vegetable farm located 20 miles south of Madison in Evansville. We buy 40 to 60 thousand pounds of carrots from Tipi Produce every year, and the demand continues to grow. I was lucky enough to speak to Steve Pincus, the co-owner of Tipi Produce, to get the dirt on this year’s carrot crop.
Like so many of our friendly local vegetable suppliers, Steve was happy to take the time to talk about the production systems on his farm, and I was happy to learn! The variety grown at Tipi is called “Bolero,” which is a very sweet, hardy carrot that stores well after being harvested. Carrot seeds require constant moisture and moderate temperatures in order to germinate, so this year’s drought and record-high July temperatures made it difficult to get the crop started, although it is yet to be determined how the unusual weather will affect the final yield. Luckily, this variety does not suffer from many pest or disease problems, so with regular irrigation, the carrots will continue to grow and collect sweetness from the sun until it is time to harvest them in early October. I’ve been told that the carrot harvest at Tipi is a sight to behold— as Steve drives his 1954 single-row carrot harvester down the row, the plowshare loosens the soil behind the carrots while a conveyor belt grabs the green tops of the carrot plants and lifts them whole from the soil. The machine then cuts the tops off and discards them back into the field, where they will add organic matter to the soil.
We can never predict when our supply of Tipi carrots will run out, but it is usually around March or April. They are available as a bulk produce item or in 5-lb and 25-lb bags, so I recommend stocking up and storing them yourself if possible. Carrots will stay crunchy in the crisper of your refrigerator for several months, but they’ll also do very well in a basement or shed if temperatures stay between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit (just beware of critters who might find your tasty treats!).
What’s up, Doc?
It is not a myth that carrots help you see in the dark. Vitamin A is crucial for vision, especially night vision, and carrots are one of the best sources of Vitamin A available to us. Vitamin A is a product of the beta-carotene pigment that gives carrots their characteristic orange color, so it is also found in other orange fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes and papaya. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, so the best way to make it available to your body is to chop your carrots and sauté them lightly in oil. Juicing is a similarly effective way to maximize the available nutrients of your carrots. Most of the nutrients are concentrated close to the skin, so be sure to brush your carrots lightly when cleaning to preserve the flavor and nutritional value.
Carrots also have a relatively high sugar content, as far as vegetables go. Sautéing them or roasting them at 400˚F will enhance their sweetness by caramelizing the natural sugars. Some folks even like to add brown sugar or honey, but I find that it’s not necessary as the carrots are so sweet on their own.
Several years ago, I worked at a farmers’ market in Rutland, VT and I met a woman who grew carrots of the most beautiful hues—yellows, reds, oranges, purples, and whites. She told me a story—more like a legend—about the history of the orange table carrot as we know it today. The wild ancestor of the modern-day carrot is Queen Anne’s Lace, a common wildflower. The roots of this plant are white, woody, and quite bitter. In Central Asia and Europe, carrots were selectively bred over centuries to become straighter, sweeter, and more colorful, like the ones I saw in Rutland. But the popularity of the orange carrot, according to legend, began in the 16th century in the Netherlands, where the national hero was William of Orange. Although this story is now widely dismissed as a myth, it is true that orange became the most popular carrot color around that time, and the Dutch still wear orange to every national sporting event.
The many uses of carrots
Carrots are some of the most versatile vegetables that exist. They are delicious raw or cooked, grated or chopped, juiced or steamed, in everything from stews, slaws, stir-fries, salads to cupcakes. Check out the Willy Street Co-op website for a list of recipes by ingredient to find our latest suggestions for how to use them.