When I was young, carrots were orange. Standardised orange. I did not even imagine it could be different.
But the wild carrots that grew in the area of Afghanistan, some five thousand years ago, had various colours. According to the carrot museum (yes, there is one, be it virtual only) it is due to Dutch growers (oh no, not again) that carrots became widely used in the orange hue (natural colour of the Dutch after the part of the family name of the Dutch royals that stems from the Orange area in France…) and due to a French seed specialist that they became widely available.
“Wild carrot is indigenous to Europe and parts of Asia and, from archaeological evidence, seeds have been found dating since Mesolithic times, approximately 10000 years ago. One cannot imagine that the root would have been used at that time, but the seeds are known to be medicinal and it is likely the seeds were merely gathered rather than actually cultivated.
Wild carrot has a small, tough pale fleshed bitter white root; modern domestic carrot has a swollen, juice sweet root, usually orange. Carrots originated in present day Afghanistan about 5000 years ago, probably originally as a purple or yellow root like those pictured here. Purple, white and yellow carrots were imported to southern Europe in the 14th century and were widely grown in Europe into the 17th century. Purple and white carrots still grow wild in Afghanistan where they are used by some tribesmen to produce a strong alcoholic beverage. Over the ensuing centuries, orange carrots came to dominate and carrots of other colours were only preserved by growers in remote regions of the world.
Nature then took a hand and produced mutants and natural hybrids, crossing both with cultivated and wild varieties. It is considered that purple carrots were then taken westwards where it is thought yellow mutants and wild forms crossed to produce orange. Then some motivated Dutch growers took these mutant orange carrots under their horticultural wings and developed them to be sweeter and more practical. Finally we have the French to thank for popular modern varieties such as Nantes and Chantenay, with credit to the 19th century horticulturist Louis de Vilmorin, who laid the foundations for modern plant breeding”.
Nowadays, on the French markets there is a renaissance of ‘forgotten vegetables’ like the multi coloured carrots and the greengrocer on the Sunday market in our village had a nice selection.
Carrots are healthy, they contain beta-carotene (pro vitamin A), vitamin A, B1, B2, C , minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron and they also contain dietary fibres. They help lower cholesterol levels in the blood.
Cumin originates from the Middle East and I find that it combines nicely with carrots.
In this recipe, I steamed the carrots to accompany guinea fowl fillets. I presented it on top of some leaves of rougette salad (a winter salad) and a mix of grains.
- 600 grammes of “ancient’ carrots (I had purple, yellow and white)
- Two teaspoons of cumin
- Some salad leaves
- Two breast fillets of guinea fowl
- One sachet of mixed grains (Bulgur wheat, coral lentils, soy, red quinoa, Saint Eloi brand)
- Butter, pepper, salt to taste
- Peel the carrots and slice them (keep the various colours separated).
- Wash and dry the salad leaves.
- Bring a pan with slightly salted water to the boil.
- Fold the different colour batches of carrots in kitchen paper and put them in a steamer lid.
- Put the lid on top of the boiling water.
- After five minutes, add the grains to the boiling water and continue for 10 minutes.
- In a skillet, melt butter and brown the fillets at high heat, then turn temperature lower and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes until the meat is cooked and still tender.
- Add pepper and salt to taste.
- Take the lid off the pan, pour the content of the pan through a colander.
- Put some salad leaves on a serving plate, add some carrots and sprinkle with cumin.
- Put some mixed grains on the plate and put a breast fillet on top.