Although carrots often play a supporting role in the culinary world, I’ve long appreciated them in their own right. As a baby I turned a subtle hue of orange from consuming so much carrot puree, and as a child I happily mimicked my favorite cartoon character, Bugs Bunny, by chomping on carrots every chance I got. Apparently the world has caught up, since a recent New York Times article declared carrots the new Brussels sprouts.
Carrots probably originated in Afghanistan from a purple variety thousands of years ago, and have been enjoyed for their culinary and medicinal purposes ever since. Today they’re more popular than ever, with the average American eating nearly 10 pounds per year, according to a USDA report on the subject.
Though they have a long history, carrots don’t appear alongside the seven species of the Old Testament, and Gil Marks points out in The Encyclopedia of Jewish Cooking that “The carrot, never mentioned in the Talmud or Midrash, was a rather late arrival to the Middle East and Jewish cookery.”
This week The Jew and the Carrot celebrates the first anniversary of its re-launch. In honor of the milestone, we took a deeper look at the roots of our namesake veggie — the carrot and its tangled Jewish past.
Myths, both ancient and modern, abound around the orange veggie — some say it improves your eye sight, others claimed it aided in contraception, some quibble over the fact that orange carrots were created by botanists working under the House of Orange in Holland, and finally, others claim that Jews are responsible for the first written carrot cake recipe in America. Like most good legends, there’s a grain of truth and a whole of hullabaloo in these myths. So here are the facts:
First of all, carrots, and not just the ones sitting at the bottom of your vegetable drawer, are really old. Fossils of wild carrot pollen stretch back 55-34 million years, according to botanical researchers John Stolarzyk and Jules Janick. Since then, carrots have transformed from wild inedible roots to the sweet orange vegetable we know today.
Empire Kosher Poultry, the largest kosher chicken company in the country, claims “it produces a healthier, cleaner, more reliably kosher chicken than available anywhere else in America — and in a socially and environmentally responsible way,” according to JTA.
Multi-colored Carrots are coming to farmers’ markets this month! Yes, we have a soft spot for our namesake veggie.
A deli plate would be naked without a pickle, but the preserved cucumber wasn’t always so beloved. Jane Ziegelman writes that the pickle was once viewed as a stimulant and consumption was frowned upon.
The title of Mark Bittman’s Opinionator piece this week, “Can Big Food Regulate Itself? Fat Chance,” says it all.