Magazine article The Spectator

Small, Sweet and Raw

Magazine article The Spectator

Small, Sweet and Raw

Article excerpt

Food for thought

Simon Courtauld

When the Huguenots, including my family, were driven from France towards the end of the 17th century by Louis XIV's religious intolerance, they took with them, as immigrants often do, a rich variety of talents and skills (silversmithing in the Courtaulds' case). A century earlier, a flood of Flemish refugees from Spanish Catholic bigotry took their gardening skills to England, also bringing with them an orange root vegetable known as the carrot.

Carrots and Holland are still associated in the minds of commercial growers; and I have recently sown the seed of a well-known variety called Amsterdam Forcing which, if the carrot fly can be kept at bay, we should be pulling and enjoying by the end of June. There is much to be said for growing your own carrots: when small they are deliciously sweet eaten raw, and quite a different vegetable from the thick reddish tubes sold in plastic bags. While these may be perfectly acceptable for putting in stews, they give carrots a bad name when served, as they still are in many restaurants and pubs, sliced, boiled and dumped, without even butter or parsley, on a silly little white side-dish.

Carrots are most nutritious when eaten raw, and most of their flavour, and their vitamin content, is in the skin, which is why the large, bagged carrots have so little taste, having already been subjected to excessive cleaning and pressure-washing. When buying carrots, those which still have their green tops are a much better bet. Spanish varieties have been available for some weeks, and the English ones have been coming into the shops this month. If eaten raw, they are good with a garlic mayonnaise, or grated with a little chopped shallot, oil and lemon juice. Carrot juice is a fashionable health food, but I'm not sure that it goes very well with vodka.

It may be the colour of carrots which supposedly enables you to see in the dark; but those people with red, or carrot-coloured, hair are not considered so fortunate. If a girl's hair is described as auburn, it is a compliment; if called carroty, it is not. And wasn't Judas thought to have a carrot beard? It is at least a suitable topic for comedy: no Beachcomber fan will need reminding of the case of the 12 red-bearded dwarfs, which was heard before Mr Justice Cocklecarrot. …

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