Claire’s 18th Century Garden: Carrots

Getting Carrot Away!purpleburgandy

Carrots have a pretty exciting history in their own right. In fact, there’s an entire website dedicated to carrot history.. should you want to read their extensive research into the origins of the lowly carrot. It’s believed carrots appeared some 5000 years ago in Middle Asia and slowly spread across the Mediterranean. The first recorded carrots (900 AD) were described as purple, yellow, white, or black, however the first documented record of the word “orange” as a color name in English is in 1512, in a will now with the Public Record Office in Great Britain. Before this word was introduced to the English-speaking world, “orange” was referred to as ġeolurēad (yellow-red). (Source: Oxford English Dictionary,2011.) Therefore documentary references to orange carrots don’t exist prior to the introduction of the word “orange.”  Arguably writers referring to light red or deep yellow could easily have meant orange, there just wasn’t a word for it.  But it is thought that for the first few hundred years of cultivation carrots were probably purple.

orange04By the early 18th century Holland was leading the charge in carrot breeding, and today’s orange carrot is directly descended from these Dutch carrots. All modern hybrids are derived from the four early orange varieties created by these Dutch breeders, so even if you weren’t actively seeking to recreate Claire’s Wee Garden the seeds you’re buying today have their roots (no pun intended) in one of those four early orange varieties, the Early Half Long, Late Half Long, Scarlet Horn and Long Orange. It is during this period that carrots shift from being grown primarily as an herbal, for their tops, and start appearing on the table in soups, puddings, and, of all things… tarts.

In 1736 E. Smith’s wrote “Compleat Housewife,” which included a recipe for “Carrot or Parsnip Puffs:”
To make Carrot or Parsnip Puffs:—Scrape and boil your carrots or parsnips tender; then scrape or mash them very fine, add to a pint of pulp the crumb of a penny-loaf grated, or some stale biscuit, if you have it, some eggs, but four whites, a nutmeg grated, some orange-flower-water, sugar to your taste, a little sack, and mix it up with thick cream. They must be fry’d in rendered suet, the liquor very hot when you put them in; put in a good spoonful in a place.

Yes, well, I didn’t say it sounded tasty.

Carrots arrived in the new world carried on early ships, even before the Mayflower.  We know carrots were adopted by the native tribes because they are listed among the stores of crops destroyed by General John Sullivan’s army in 1779, during the foray against the Six Nations (Iroquois) in Genessee county, or upstate New York.  The army discovered fields of corn, and gardens growing beans, peas, turnips, cabbages, melons, carrots, parsnips and potatoes.

By the time of the American revolution carrots are a staple in the colonial diet. A letter from George Divers to Thomas Jefferson (1809) gives an idea of one garden’s supply of root crops. “I sow 200 feet each of parsnip and beet. 320 feet each salsify and carrots…which is a very ample provision for my table and indeed, more than sufficient.”

But carrots have a dark side. Carrots escaped, and “Queen Anne’s Lace”, which can overtake a field choking out desirable forage grasses, is a good carrot gone bad.

Little Fingers carrot seed. A baby gourmet carrot which is mature at 3- 5″  golden orange, sweet and crisp.  A Nantes type carrot for salads, whole in stir fries, and canning, as they can be canned whole.

Grow in the garden by sprinkling finely and “tilling in” with your fingers, or in large pots out on the patio.  It’s a perfect variety for those with small spaces. Plant continuously for ongoing harvest. Carrots, however, have a long germination time, so weeding is a must.  And they tend to sprout thickly due to the small seed size.. so thinning is a must as well.  Since the earliest carrots were grown not for their roots but for their tops toss the thinnings into your salad bowl for an extra boost of Claire approved greens.

1 FREE Audiobook RISK-FREE from Audible Keep yourself occupied while weeding, download Outlander… read by Davina Porter you’ll be hooked on both weeding, and Diana Gabaldon, before you’ve thinned your first row.

To learn absolutely everything about carrots visit, no really, The World Carrot Museum

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