Purple Dragon Carrots

Purple dragon carrots from Nesenkeag Farm
Mange des carottes, ça rend aimable! Eat carrots and you will be kind! or, eat carrots and they’ll make you a pleasant person!
How many times did I, like any French person, hear that saying? Countless times. As a kid, I can’t say I disliked carrots, but the moral value that supposedly came with them infuriated me. What did that imply? Was I not a sweet little girl? I do, and still do, take sayings (too) seriously!
At the family restaurant carrotes rapées were always on the crudités cart, dressed with vinaigrette and garnished with parsley. Another carrot dish that appeared regularly on the menu, and that I liked very much, is carrotes Vichy. These sweet glazed carrots would be flanked by a slice of beautiful veal loin roast drenched in flavorsome intense jus. My grand father’s recipe was simple and looks like the same recorded on his (now mine!) Escoffier cookbook:
Carottes à la Vichy:
Place the (sliced) carrots in a skillet with enough water to almost cover them, add 30 grammes of salt, 30 grammes of sugar and 60 grammes of butter per 1/2 litre of water. Set up “en timbale” (in this case it means to fill up a greased individual ramekins with the cooked carrots and turn them out on the serving dish or plate).
The carrots I took pictures of are Purple Dragon carrots. They were the last veggies left over from my wonderful trip to Nesenkeag Farm a few weeks ago. I never had these carrots before, I usually stay away from “trendy” foods, but Liana & Eero generously send me home with 2 lbs of them and I got curious.
One anecdote before I get into carrot history:
I brought a few to Alime at Aunt Halime’s Halal Meat, as she always shares Turkish delicacies. I though it was going to be a hit, but Alime looked at the purple carrots made a very disapproving face and said something like “beurk! chemicals, you can’t trust supermarket!”. I am not sure she trusted me about the carrots exquisite provenance, but it got me even more curious and I decided to look closer at the history of the carrot. Have carrots always been orange?
This summer I got a French book (thank you Pierre!) called “La Fabuleuse Histoire des Légumes” or “The Fabulous History of Vegetables” by Evelyne Bloch-Dano. Yes, I have translated “légumes” by “vegetables” because that is what the word means in the French sense of it. The book tells stories about leguminous plants, such as beans and peas, but also artichoke, Jerusalem artichoke and others. About carrots she writes:
In the 1930’s Vavilov, the Russian biologist and his team were doing research in the context of the improvement of cultivated plants in the service of Soviet Agriculture. They discovered spieces of volunteer and hybrid carrots in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Their appearance differs from wild carrots under our climate : their roots are meatier, bear little ramifications and most of all their colour ranges from purple and pink to orangy yellow…
Then Evelyne Bloch-Dano mentions Ibn al-‘Awwam, the 12th century agriculturist from Seville, who in turns reports on a 4th century book on Nabatean Agriculture and the fact thatred and yellow carrots were known to Palestinians. Ibn al-‘Awwam also speaks of red carrots in Spain at that time. In Spanish carrot is Zanahoria, and the origin of the word is quite controversial and interesting.
It is common to find entries giving an Arabic origin: safunariyat, isfranija. But the word may also possibly have a Berber origin, asfenaria . Mais encore, a Basque origin is not excluded: zain and horia which means “yellow root”, and carrots where more often red and yellow than orange. Others again posit as Aramean origin…Well, I am letting you sort it out and if you are germanophiles look at the entry below by the distinguished German linguist Hugo Schuchart:
Bloch-Dano reports that Apicius mentions a white “carota”, eaten fried or en salade, and that white carrots were mistaken for parsnips. But when did the carrot became orange? She notes that we can follow the appearance of orange carrots through Dutch paintings like Pieter Aertsen’s (1508–1575) ” Market Woman with Vegetable Stall “. She argues that Dutch painters recorded orange carrots about 200 years before any agriculture treatise; 1721 would be the first mention of the orange carrots from Holland. We don’t find any record in France until 1770.
Market Woman with Vegetable Stall 1567
Oil on wood, 11 x 110 cm – Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Voilà! I was just going spend a couple hours writing a quick blog about carrots; and here I am, eight hours later and sore from kneeling on my computer chair (told you I was brought up catholic!). After traveling virtually through continents, countries, languages I can now answer confidently:
No! carrots have not always been orange! Looks like they are a Dutch invention to celebrate the Orangist movement.
Yes! I ate my Purple Dragon carrots. I sautéed them with cabbage, ginger and garlic topped this with a steak haché (hamburger, with no bun, I don’t do sandwiches for dinner). Purple Dragon carrots are good, though I must say they have a far more interesting look that taste. The juxtaposition of purple and orange is stunning. For taste I prefer the orange ones. I ate some of the Purple Dragon carrots raw tand they do taste nuttier and stronger it is no doubt a hardier vegetable.

One more thing before I go stretch and breathe some fresh air: there is a great article and photo montage on the Christian Monitor website about Nesenkeag Farm: An organic farm grows all the peas and pods


Nicole’s Thursday night quick dinner:
Simple pan fried Hamburger with
Sautéed Purple Dragon carrots & Nappa cabbage with garlic & fresh ginger

The Farmers in Chief + Turnip & Potato Gratin

I am nominating Eero Ruuttila and Liana Eastman (from Nesenkeag Farm, Litchfield NH) as Farmers in Chief!
If you wonder what I am talking about you must read Michael Pollan excellent article published in the New York Times Magazine : Farmer in Chief and/or listen to Michael Pollan interview on Fresh Air.
Pollan article is an open letter addressed to: Dear Mr. President-Elect
“As most of us already know the next president’s food policies, will have a large impact on a wide range of issues, including national security, climate change, energy independence and health care”.

Indeedy! If you follow my blog you know that I was at Nesenkeag Farm Day last week end.
I will try to keep the account of the event concise, but the colors, tastes, warmth, inspirations are still so vivid that I am having a hard time sorting out what to write.

The trip started by collecting a few things to bring to the farm:
Spicy olives from Aunt Alime’s Halal meat market in Bay Ridge & a big Balthazar Pain de Seigle.
Then I met Simon Pettet at the Fung Wha bus terminal and we hopped on the bus to Boston. The conversations and the gorgeous colors of nature made the 4:30 hours ride go like a flash. Once in Boston we transfered to North Station via subway where we caught (almost didn’t) the train to Lowell. It was my idea to have cocktails to make good use of the 20 minute wait… we barely made it to the train but broke a big sweat and had great laughs. Pierre (Joris) was waiting for us at the Lowell station and we drove to our destination: Nesenkeag Farm in Litchfield NH.

We were greeted by Erick Ruutilla, the bright and handsom younger son of Eero and Liana; the farmers still had many errands to run to get ready for the next day. We settled ourselves in the house, opened wine, beer, bread, olive, cheese, did a little cooking prep until the farmers arrived for a splendid dinner of -never so fresh- stir fry greens, bacon & potatoes. After dinner we took a walk on the farm grounds. The night was bright & cold under an 89% Full Hunter’s Moon. While Lydia the dog takes a swim in the Merrimack river -Thoreau stopped here in September 1839, see One week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers- we watch the reflections and Eero tells us about the three “one hundred years floods” he experienced in the last eighteen months, the damages he had to face and how red clover is a better green manure/cover crop for climate change. I was fast asleep when I hit the sack, the warm wooden fire took me away in minutes.

When I got up Saturday morning everybody was buzzing around getting things in motion for the visitors. My assignment was to make a Turnip and Potato Gratin. Liana and Karen -the catering coordinator for the event- provided me with a recipe that I loosely followed because I had to make it for a bigger crowd. Pierre assisted in the cooking and Simon peeled potatoes.



Nesenkeag Turnip and Potato au Gratin:
5 medium Yellow Finn or Russet potatoes
10 medium turnips
Butter/Salt/Pepper
2 cups of grated Dubliner cheddar or Swiss
2 cups of Heavy Cream.

Preheat oven to 375ºF
Peel & slice potatoes & turnips (only if skin is tough) 1/4 inch thick.
Butter the sides & bottom of dish.
Layer potatoes and turnips seasoning each layer and dividing the cheese.
Pour cream, cover with the rest of the cheese, disperse small nuggets of butter on top. Bake uncovered for about 40 minutes & rotate the dish if your oven cooks unevenly.

The gratin was for the evening gathering so we headed back to the event location for the -daylight- farm tour and delicious food cooked by the Cambodian farm workers that have their imprint all over the farm. I particularly liked the sour chicken soup. Then came poetry & music. The readers were Nancy Henry and Joseph Torra. Nancy read funny personal poems and Joe, after treating us with a few Chinese farm/food related poems, lifted us off to Boston; the intensity of his performance was a true act of deterritorialization. Then Vincente Lebron, Russ Gershon and their friends accompanied the sunset to Latin rhythm. The next day was Chef’s Day. Nesenkeag Farm delivers their gorgeous veggies to the best Boston & New Hampshire restaurants (click here for list). One of the chef brought a 150 lbs pig that he smoked all night long. Another restaurant owner barbecued Lamb Kofte that he served in warm pita bread with stewed shredded tomatoes, yogurt sauce and a dash of mint oil on top. That was so tasty! Then there were salads, soups, wines, cider, pies, apples to die for…and the company. Poets, farmers, musicians, chefs, young people, older people all mingled and feast. Eero’s older son Jesse brought a horde of young brooklinites that were a lot of fun to hang out with

Thank you so much Eero and Liana for the splendid and inspiring weekend.
View all pictures and video at :
http://www.nicolepeyrafitte.com/nesenkeagfarm/farm.html

Nesenkeag’s Annual Farm Day

An important message from Eero Ruuttila:
Nesenkeag’s Annual Farm Day

Saturday, October 18th 11- 5:30 pm

Poetry reading
& grand raffle drawing

An all day even (check out the schedule) and at 3:30PM:
The 8th Annual Nesenkeag Poetry Reading, featuring Nancy Henry (Westbrook, Maine) and Joseph Torra (Somerville, Mass) and will be followed by live music featuring Vicente Lebron & Friends, with Russ Gershon.

Nesenkeag Farm is located on the eastern bank of the Merrimack River, in southern New Hampshire (Litchfield). Henry David Thoreau once camped at the farm next to the mouth of Nesenkeag Brook and wrote about his Litchfield passage in his One Week on the Concord & Merrimack Rivers. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit farm, Nesenkeag’s recent funding support includes grants from Share Our Strength and NH Catholic Charities, and our own spring Plant-A-Meal Fundraiser. Nonprofit income supports production of organic vegetables for the NH Food bank, whose distribution network includes soup kitchens and food pantries throughout New Hampshire. For 23 years, Nesenkeag has provided specialty produce to some of the finest restaurants in Boston and Southern NH. Its skilled Cambodian farm workers commute daily from Lowell.

Nesenkeag is well known for its innovative organic production & marketing strategies, developed during the past two decades by farm director & field manager, Eero Ruuttila. This past winter Eero completed his 5-year tenure as a “Farmer-Educator” for the USDA’s SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) program. This position supported numerous summer field tours and winter conference lectures.

Pierre Joris, Simon Pettet and myself will be there, will you?

ps: for more info check out my March 24th blog