Magazine article Sunset

Fresh Winter Flavors: Carrots

Magazine article Sunset

Fresh Winter Flavors: Carrots

Article excerpt

HARVESTING CRUNCHY, sweet carrots from the garden is one of the joys of growing vegetables. Plucked straight from the earth, they're more flavorful than any you can buy in the grocery store.

But flavor differs greatly among varieties, and planting time and maturity also affect flavor. In the mild-winter West, early fall is the best time to plant. Carrots achieve their sweetest taste when the last few weeks of growth occur in cool weather. Also, unless a carrot is bred to be harvested young, it won't develop full flavor until mature.

Two ingredients determine a carrot's flavor: sugars and terpenoids (volatile compounds that impart the carrot flavor). Because terpenoids develop earlier than sugars, a carrot that is harvested too young might taste bitter.

Commercial carrot varieties have been developed for uniformity of shape, as well as for color, disease resistance, and ease of harvest. But home gardeners can select a carrot more for flavor than appearance. How do you choose the sweetest ones to grow?

Select a variety by type. Carrots are normally grouped into Chantenay, Danvers, Imperator, Nantes, and Paris Market types; new hybrids blur the definitions.

For flavor, it's difficult to beat a Nantes ('Bolero', 'Fly Away', 'Little Finger', 'Toudo'), characterized by its cylindrical roots. It's not a carrot you'll find in the grocery store, because it's difficult to harvest commercially and doesn't store well.

Chantenay ('Imperial Chantenay', 'Short 'n Sweet') has broad shoulders and strongly tapered tips. It has good flavor, performs in heavy soil, and stores well.

The sweet, round little Paris Market types ('Planet', 'Thumbelina') do well even in containers or in very heavy, shallow, or rocky soil.

'Belgium White', an heirloom variety, is white, mild tasting, and good for stews.

For the widest selection of varieties, order seeds by mail. …

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