As reported on the very fun website “Today I Found Out,” before the 17th Century, almost all cultivated carrots were purple.
It was the Dutch who developed the mutant orange strains of carrots, apparently sweeter and fleshier than the purple variety. The website also shares the great story that in World War II, British gunners spread rumors that their ability to shoot down German planes at night was due to their having consumed huge amounts of carrots. While their goal was to hide the Allied advancements in radar, the rumors had the unintended effect of getting many British to start planting carrots in their gardens. (See more on this World War II ruse in this Smithsonian Magazine article.)
Today, we tend to prefer so-called baby carrots, now responsible for almost 70 percent of all carrot sales in the U.S. As The Chicago Tribune recounts, in the early 1980s, the carrot business was stagnant and more than half of what farmers grew was considered ugly and unfit for grocery shelves. In 1986, one California grower decided that instead of tossing out the misshapen carrots, he would carve them into smaller pieces. Grocery stores loved it and so did consumers. The Tribune noted:
“In 1987, the year after [the introduction of baby carrots], carrot consumption jumped by almost 30 percent, according to data from the USDA. By 1997, the average American was eating roughly 14 pounds of carrots per year, 117 percent more than a decade earlier.”
A 2007 report by the USDA made the astounding statement that “carrots accounts [sic] for the largest share (about half) of supermarket sales, followed distantly by potatoes, celery, and others.” They are especially popular for kids’ lunch boxes and to go with party dips.
Personally, while I do eat carrots in their pure form quite a bit, needless to say I prefer to have my carrots as cake.
Here is one of my favorite recipes for carrot cake, from The Silver Palate Cookbook, with my own adaptations added in parentheses.
(10 to 12 portions)
Butter, for greasing the pan
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1-1⁄2 cups corn oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups shelled walnuts, chopped
1-1/2 cups shredded coconut [I omit this]
1-1/3 cups puréed cooked carrots [I use jars of baby food carrots]
3/4 cup drained crushed pineapple [I omit this]
Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch springform pans.
2. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the oil, eggs, and vanilla. Beat well. Fold in the walnuts, coconut, carrots, and pineapple. [I omit the coconut and pineapple.]
3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Set on the center rack of the oven and bake until the edges have pulled away from the sides and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 minutes.
4. Cool on a cake rack for 3 hours. [as if I would wait that long!]
5. Fill and frost the cake with the cream cheese frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Juice of 1/2 lemon (optional)
1. Cream together the cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl.
2. Slowly sift in the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fully incorporated. The mixture should be free of lumps.
3. Stir in the vanilla, and lemon juice if desired.
Frosting for a 2-layer cake