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Keeping Up With Maury
Carrots
by Maury Feren


I'm thinking back of how carrots are marketed and how the taste has changed. Way back in the early 40's no one recognized the true nutritional value of carrots. There was some talk of the value of earthy foods like potatoes, parsnips, turnips, and carrots. They could be brought to the market by farmers who grew these vegetables; many times still full of the earth's dirt.

There was a major processing company at that time which had a mechanical washer which rinsed the dirt off these products for marketing. They were then packed in peck baskets and sold to the retail stores on that basis. They were all home grown at that time. Nobody thought much about them. They were just another item for sale.

In the summer time, some farmers would market bunched carrots with 12 bunches to a basket. You should know that the greens of carrots cannot be used for cooking because they are bitter. Now this is an interesting aspect to this story. The carrots were mostly misshapen, stubby, and uninteresting looking.

Sometime later, an article appeared in the paper promoting the nutritional value of carrots particularly their importance for the eyes. People picked up on that idea and carrots moved into the marketplace as a major vegetable.

But here is the rub. With the advent of plastic packaging, carrots could be packed in a plastic bag and look fresh under refrigeration for a month or more. You would never know how old they were until you prepared them. Then you would recognize that they still looked good and fresh, but they were hard and tasteless.

Here is where the major issue comes into play. I've mentioned this before. Once California enters the picture, no one can compete with it. You will come into any supermarket and you will see piles of different size packages carrots on display from 1 lb. to 5 lbs. all looking fresh. How old are they? How long since they were packed? No one knows.

Then the worst thing that could happen comes into play - the baby carrot. Oh, they look so good, so shapely, so tender. Don't we know that they are punched out of larger carrots that have been grown especially for their size. So you put them out for appetizers on a veggie tray. They are tough and hard and have no juice. If you put them into soup, they turn into mush. Yet they have turned out to be the biggest commercial boon of the country.

That isn't all, 90% of the restaurants have carrots in their salads that are hard and tasteless.

I can remember selling 50 lb. bags of carrots to suppliers at Thistledown Race Track to feed the horses. It was a fairly successful item at that time.

Carrot juice had not yet come into being. So buying carrots that had taste was hit and miss. But there is a way to beat the rap. Make sure you purchase the bunched carrots with the greens on them. Not many markets carry them. You won't see big displays of them. But one thing you can be sure of is that you will find them to be tender and sweet.

Of course, you have the exceptional baby carrots grown at the Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, Ohio where they grow the best specialty vegetables in the USA. Their vegetables are grown to such perfection to sweetness and taste that they are shipped to restaurants all over the country. Bob Jones and his son produce quality vegetables that will match anything grown anywhere.

I have visited his farm in Milan, Ohio many times. He has been able to make such inroads in the growing process that has changed truck garden practices from its very roots. I have spent my life studying agricultural practices. Like Bob Jones, I am an advocate of sustainability. That is the basis of everything they produce on their farm. However, the advances they have made in technique have changed the nature of food forever.

On one of my visits, I learned that vegetables taste different at various stages of growth. You will find distinct differences at 1 inch, 2 inches or 3, 4, or 5. This was something new. No one has been able to do it as a planned growth process. It is amazing to note the taste changes in the vegetable as it grows.

I wish you could see the beautiful baby carrots they grow, the tender spinach, baby squash, and a 100 other items. They also have their hot house products. You would do yourself a big favor just to visit their farm. (http://www.culinaryvegetableinstitute.com/index.php/events/april-2014-earth-to-table-dinner).

I must mention it is not a retail facility, but they do serve monthly dinners with some of the most famous chefs in the country.

They have been able to teach hundreds of children what vegetables look like as they are growing. Teaching them everything there is to know about basic farming. It is a wonderful program that has earned recognition all over the country.


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