Of Carrots and Things

Children with Carrots in Afghanistan
Children with Carrots in Afghanistan

Never bolt your door with a boiled carrot.
Irish Proverb

A memory, augmented and tempered by time … and carrots.

I close my eyes and scraps of the past flicker through my mind.

The last carrot rasped against the finest “teeth” on the four-sided grater, orangy juice pooling slowly into a small puddle in the bowl. “Big” Grandma (as opposed to my other grandmother,  “Teeny” Grandma) stood back and shook her head. “Not enough carrots. I guess we need two more, because these are scrawny little fellows,“ she said to me.

I turned around, my nose almost pressing on the word “Kelvinator” gleaming on the front of the stodgy refrigerator. Opening the door with both of my small hands, I leaned into the coolness and pulled out two more carrots. “Bobo,” the name we grandkids bestowed on my grandfather, grew lovely reddish-orange beauties on his double lot in Ocean Beach, California.

Clumps of dirt still clung to the tiny hairs poking out from the carrots and I was too small still to wield the peeler or, heaven forbid, a knife. “Big Grandma” smiled at me and, quick as quicksilver, she flayed and grated the carrots, and they joined their compatriots in the ceramic bowl.

“Now we can get cooking,” she laughed, her plastic eyeglasses wobbling with each chuckle.

A couple of hours later, we all sat around the table, wedges of carrot cake the size of of a pound of butter rested on our plates, spread with a thick layer of  cream cheese frosting.

Because “Bobo’s” garden was the stuff of local legend (he created a special hybrid rose that made it into the newspaper), it seemed only natural to ask him the obvious.

“Where did carrots come from?,” my brother piped up, as crumbs dribbled from his mouth. (This is the same brother who turned orange from eating too many carrots. Really. At least that’s what my mother says.)

“From the garden, of course,” “Bobo” said.

And he winked at us, looking like he’d just learned the most delicious secret. The master of snark, he was.

When I ate carrot cake the other day, I thought of “Bobo’s” garden and the carrot cakes “Big” Grandma baked.

Queen Anne's Lace (Photo copyright coveman)
Queen Anne's Lace (Photo copyright coveman)

Carrots originally came from Afghanistan and they may have begun as Queen Ann’s Lace, or wild carrots, Daucus carota, over 5000 years ago. That’s the honest-to-goodness truth.

“Bobo” would be tickled to know that the rabbits he raised in the big walled-in hutch, built of wood from an old barn, ate such an ancient food.

And as the World Carrot Museum in Britain says on their Web site, Daucus carota var. sativus tells a long, fascinating, and yes, ancient,  story.

Indeed. So bake some of “Big” Grandma’s carrot cake and pull up a seat. And be prepared for a wild, meandering ride.

Photo Credit: cbcastro
Photo Credit: cbcastro

Makes one three-layer cake

1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 cups white sugar
1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
3 cups finely shredded carrots
1 cup chopped pecans

8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1 pound confectioner’s sugar
2 t. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour three 9-inch round baking pans. Set aside.

Beat oil, eggs, and sugar together in a large bowl. Sift dry ingredients together into another bowl. Stir dry ingredients into oil/egg/sugar mixture. Beat until well blended. Stir in carrots and pecans. Spread batter in pans and bake 45 minutes (NOTE: actually, with today’s ovens, 25 – 30 minutes seems more apt). Cool in pans on rack for 10 minutes, then turn out cakes onto rack and let cool.

Cream butter and cream cheese until blended, add sugar, beat until well mixed, stir in vanilla. Place one layer of cake on a wide plate, spread with frosting, repeat with all layers. Spread remaining frosting around sides of cake.

Slice. Serve. Enjoy.

© 2009 C. Bertelsen

5 thoughts on “Of Carrots and Things

  1. Sure, go ahead, Louise. As long as you link to the original page on Flickr. you can use the photo, according to the Creative Commons agreement. Thanks for the kind words. Looking forward to your post!

  2. Hi Cynthia:) Well, I’m at it again, I’m preparing to do a quick links post for National Carrot Cake Day, Feb. 3, 2010. How would you feel about me “grabbing” your photo and including it with a link to my post. I totally understand if the photo is not yours to allow grabbing:) I’m going to include the link anyway, it’s just perfect with the history included:) Thanks for sharing this charming story and recipe.

  3. That sounds yummy, Cynthia. I am going to try it. Also interesting about the carrot history!

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