A celebration of the bright and beautiful heritage carrots at Borough’s greengrocers
The British love affair with the carrot is second only to its ongoing fling with the potato. The carrot is a bastion of winter cooking, the perfect addition to spring salads and a fool-proof summer snack. Given the imminence of International Carrot Day—yes, it’s a thing—on 4th April, now’s the perfect time to give some of the many bright and beautiful heritage varieties available at Borough’s greengrocers a go.
“They have far more depth of flavour than your ordinary carrot,” says Borough Market demonstration chef Jenny Chandler. “They’re usually sweeter—these days when you bite into a carrot it’s often disappointing; not how you remember carrots tasting when you were little. When you bite into a heritage carrot, it takes you back.”
References to orange carrots don’t crop up in Britain until the 18th century, although they are believed to have first been cultivated by the Dutch in the 1500s. Before that, they were white or purple, but selective breeding for greater disease resistance and longer shelf life have led to the near disappearance of the colourful carrots of our forefathers.
Happily, the likes of Borough’s greengrocers are bringing back these forgotten varieties. While there’s a vast array of sub-species, heritage carrots broadly fall into two categories: purple and white. They come in all shapes, sizes and hues, from short and round to long and spindly; from bright purple, to yellow, to white.
“Commonly, purple carrots have an orangey-yellow centre, but the ones we have in at the moment are purple all the way through,” explains Gary of Elsey & Bent, snapping one in half with a satisfying crunch. “But as we get into spring, the selection will get much broader.”
Over at Paul Wheeler Fresh Supplies and Ted’s Veg, you’ll find orange, yellow and purple varieties from France. “They make lovely salads and are great for spiralising,” says Kath, co-owner of Ted’s Veg. “It’s nice to have such bright colours on the plate, it makes the dish much more interesting.”
To make the most of these attractive root vegetables, Jenny has some useful tips: “In order to really develop the flavour and sweetness of the carrots, I would avoid boiling or steaming them,” she advises. “I would suggest roasting or frying them to really bring out the best of them, and experiment with seasonings such as cardamom, cumin and tarragon.”
As the weather gets warmer, keep them raw in a simple salad, Italian-style: give the carrots a good scrub in water, then grate and dress them with lemon juice, good olive oil, lots of black pepper and a tiny bit of salt. “I absolutely adore this way of eating them,” Jenny enthuses. “You can really taste the difference from your bog standard carrot.”
Natural and beautiful
When roasting them, Jenny likes to keep the skins on—“not only is there a huge amount of nutrients and fibre in the skin, but I also think they look more natural and beautiful”—then halve the carrots lengthways so you can see the flesh. “Even though they do dull a bit when roasted, the colours still look absolutely stunning.”
Prepare them in this way as a side dish, combined with tahini, toasted sesame seeds and raisins, as in this baked heritage carrots dish,or pair with wood pigeon—happily, and unusually for a game bird, ever-available at Furness Fish and Game—as in this recipe from runner-up MasterChef contestant and Borough Market demonstration chef Tony Rodd.