Fresh garden carrots taste the best

Europeans are particular about the kind of carrots they buy. French and German markets often use labels indicating the variety of each kind, along with the price.

We take carrots for granted here in the United States, knowing the same kind will be available year-round, but to European cooks, distinctions between different carrots are important.

They buy the tiny new ones to be steamed and served whole with butter and parsley. Other kinds are used as an aromatic to add flavor to soups and stews and color to casseroles.

Nevertheless, carrots are probably the most common of all vegetables in the US, next to the potato. They deserve more attention than they get.

The home gardener, unlike the consumer, has a complete range of different varieties if he chooses from the seeds listed in large seed-company catalogs.

There are many different sizes, shapes, and shades of orange, and although any fresh-from-the-garden carrots will taste better, it is pleasantly surprising to grow more than one variety and test the differences on the family and friends.

Last year I grew bright orange carrots, round as a radish and sweet as sugar. About an inch or two in diameter, they are easy to grow and are a conversation piece and an attractive addition to a platter of raw vegetables.

Another year I grew long white Belgian carrots. There are also little ones that come in odd shapes. One called Paris Forcing looks like a spool of thread. Dutch Scarlet Horn looks like a bit of thumb. Round carrots have names like Golden Ball and Orange Nugget.

Our present bright orange carrot probably comes from a purple carrot grown in the 7th century in Afghanistan. Over the years the general trend in shapes has been one of increasing elongation. Back in the 1600s carrots were short and stubby, but gradually the ones in the supermarkets have become longer, thinner, and more uniform in both shape and color.

Today we can buy an attractive, uniform bunch, but store carrots are also grown for their long shelf life. They keep well because of the high fiber content. Most of the carrots you see in the supermarkets are probably Danvers, Imperator, or Orlando varieties. These can be grown in the home garden, too, but there are at least half a dozen kinds of seeds for carrots that are especially sweet.

Even among the choice varieties the new, young, freshly picked ones taste better because the sugar that makes a carrot sweet begins to be replaced by fiber as it ages. The sweetest, tenderest part of the carrot is the brighter outside part.

For aromatic purposes, even somewhat woody carrots are fine, no matter how mature. Their flavor is stronger, and when they're chopped or pureed, it doesn't matter if they're a bit tough. You can discard the tough cores of older carrots.

A simple bouillon can be made with a chopped carrot, a chopped onion, a sliced stalk of celery, a bay leaf, and a few peppercorns.

Simmer them in a quart of water about 30 minutes, strain the liquid, and use for cooking vegetables or as a base for soup. Fish scraps or shrimp shells added with the raw ingredients will provide a court bouillon to poach seafood. The sweetness of carrots balances any acidity and subtly seasons the food.

Use larger or normal size carrots in dishes such as carrot pudding or souffle , your favorite carrot bread recipe.

Here are some of the many ways in which carrots can be used:

* Add grated carrots to beef or lamb stew for flavor and for a thickener, as well as for color.

* Add to tomato sauces to help tame the acidic flavor.

* Glaze them with brown sugar and butter, and bake until done.

* Mash leftover cooked carrots, reheat, add seasoning.

* Combine carrots in hash with roast beef, corned beef, or other meat.

* Mix carrot slices with parsnip slices or mash them together.

* Add them to the meat mixture for stuffed peppers or cabbage.

Scrub young carrots with a brush, and scrape or peel older ones. Remember that garden-fresh carrots cook quicker than store-bought ones.

Here are some carrot recipes. Creamed Carrots With Cheese 6 medium carrots, scraped 1 cup commercial sour cream 1 3-ounce package cream cheese 1 or 2 minced onions Salt and pepper to taste Slice carrots diagonally and blanch in boiling water or chicken broth until tender. Drain. Blend together remaining ingredients and fold in carrots. Turn into a 1-quart buttered baking dish.

Bake in 350 degree F. oven 10 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Serves 4 or 5. Mock Carrot Souffle 4 large carrots, cooked 1 cup carrot cooking liquid 12 soda crackers, crumbled 1 tablespoon melted butter 2 teaspoons grated onion 3/4 cup grated mild cheese Grated Parmesan cheese

Puree carrots in blender with liquid. Combine in large bowl with crackers, butter, onion, and mild cheese.

Dust buttered souffle dish with Parmesan, add carrot mixture and bake at 350 degrees F. 20 minutes. Fresh Carrot Pudding 3 eggs, separated 1/4 cup sugar 1/4 cup fresh orange juice 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon grated fresh orange rind 1/4 teaspoon dried dill or 1 teaspoon snipped fresh dill 3 cups shredded raw carrots (6 large)

Beat egg yolks with sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add orange juice, salt, dill, and shredded carrots.

Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry; fold in. Turn into a buttered 1 1/2 -quart casserole. Bake in 350 degree F. oven for 30 minutes. Makes 6 servings. Carrot Corn Muffins 1 cup shredded raw carrots (2 large) 1 cup yellow cornmeal 2 eggs, slightly beaten 1 cup milk 2 tablespoons salad oil 1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt

In medium bowl combine carrots and cornmeal. Heat milk to boiling and add to bowl; let mixture cool to room temperature. Add eggs and oil.

Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt; blend into carrot mixture. Fill greased muffin cups 3/4 full, and bake in 400 degree F. oven for 20 minutes. Makes 12 muffins. Fresh Carrot-Potato Pancakes 1 cup shredded raw carrots (2 large) 1 cup shredded pared raw potato (1 large) 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh onion 1/2 cup unsifted all-purpose flour 2 eggs, slightly beaten 1 teaspoon salt

In medium bowl combine shredded carrots, potato, and onion. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Drop by tablespoon on hot greased griddle or skillet. Spread to form a 3-inch circle. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side, turning once. Makes 18 pancakes.

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