The Modern Carrot and Genetic
Discovery - AD 1900 to date
Chapters in the history rooms:
Chapters in the history rooms:
The Twentieth Century
Throughout the Victorian and Edwardian eras, brown Windsor was a classic British soup made from lamb or beef, leeks, carrots, parsnips, bouquet garni, and Madeira. Later it sometimes contained onion and chopped parsley. It got its colour from browned meat and flour. The famous singer Jenny Lind, who arrived in England in 1847, is supposed to have partaken of soup to soothe her throat before her performances. In fact there are very few recipes totally dedicated to carrot as the main ingredient. It took the shortages of World War Two to really bring the carrot into the everyday diet.
After the end of the Second Boer War ending in May 1902 the War Office reviews it policy on the feeding and care of livestock being transported by ship. The Ministry decided that carrots should be supplied to all ships carrying horses, if available. Otherwise “other roots” should be acquired from the country in question. If no roots were available then linseed cake and oatmeal for gruel should be provided instead. The ONLY root defined my the Ministry was carrot!
Where carrots were available, the order was to feed them ¾ pound each per day, at the discretion of the Military Commanding Officer “that they are actually required” preference given to sick horses, delicate feeders and those recovering from sea sickness. Carrots were NOT to be provided to the mules on board.
(Forage Scale and Stable Duties Order, 1902 and associated correspondence – source UK National Archives, inspected 2014)
In 1905 Sears opened its seed department.
In 1908 this book was published - Food Remedies Facts About Foods And Their Medicinal Uses / Daniel, Florence 1908, here is what was said about carrots:
Carrots are strongly antiseptic. They are said to be mentally invigorating and nerve restoring. They have the reputation of being very indigestible on account of the fact that they are generally boiled, not steamed. When used medicinally it is best to take the fresh, raw juice. This is easily obtained by grating the carrot finely on a common penny bread grater, and straining and pressing the pulp thus obtained.
Raw carrot juice, or a raw carrot eaten fasting, will expel worms. The cooked carrot is useless for this purpose.
A poultice of fresh carrot pulp will heal ulcers.
Fresh carrot juice is also good for consumptives on account of the large amount of sugar it contains.
Carrots are very good for gouty subjects and for derangements of the liver.
Writing in 1910, Dr W T Fernie wrote "Meals Medicinal" (Curative foods from the cook in place of drugs from the chemist). Fernie claimed that "The chief virtues of the Carrot lie in the strong antiseptic qualities which it possesses, as preventive of putrescent changes either within the body, or when applied externally. At Vichy, where derangements of the liver, and of the biliary digestion, are specially treated, Carrots in one form or another are served at every meal, whether in soup, or with meat, or as a vegetable dish, considerable efficacy for cures being attributed to them."
This extract records a 'remedy' used in the battlefield: - Being boiled sufficiently in a little water, and mashed into a pulp, Carrots will sweeten, and heal a putrid indolent sore if applied fresh from time to time. The Carrot poultice was first used by Salzer; for mitigating the pain, and correcting the stench of foul ulcers. Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, when writing to Dr. W. Hunt, 1863, tells him how a man's heel which was severely wounded at the battle of Fredericksburg was treated : " Dr. Bigelow does nothing but keep the wound open, making the patient use for this purpose a little plug of Carrot, which is handy enough, and seems to agree very well with the wound."
Dr Fernie also wrote "Herbal Simples and Approved for Modern Uses of Cure" (1897) in which he refers to carrot as "an umbelliferous plant, which groweth of itself in untoiled places, and is called ”philtron”, because it serveth for love matters". Then recommended - The seeds are warm and aromatic to the taste, whilst they are slightly diuretic. A tea made from the whole plant, and taken each night and morning, is excellent when the lithic acid, or gouty disposition prevails, with the deposit of a brick-dust sediment in the urine on its becoming cool.
He answers the question "What is a Herbal Simple?" The English word "Simple," composed of two Latin words, Singula and plica (a single fold), means "Singleness," whether of material or purpose. From primitive times the term "Herbal Simple" has been applied to any homely curative remedy consisting of one ingredient only, and that of a vegetable nature. Many such a native medicine found favour and success with our single-minded forefathers, this being the "reverent simplicity of ancienter times." Read a more comprehensive extract here (pdf)
1915 - The Suffrage Cook Book compiled by Mrs L O Kleber
Carrot Soup - One quart of thinly sliced carrots, one head of celery, three or four quarts of water, boil for two and one-half hours; add one-half cupful of rice and boil for an hour longer; season with salt and pepper and a small cupful of cream.
First World War (1914-18) - During the winter of 1914, the German people began eating K-Bread (Kriegsbrot - war bread).
This type of bread replaced wheat with potatoes and carrots as the main ingredients. The best food was sent to the front lines to ensure the soldiers had enough energy to fight. This meant that the civilian population had to do without. As the war dragged on, Germany turned to science to produce alternative foodstuffs for the people. Several substitute or "Ersatz" food items were developed during the war including Ersatz Coffee made from carrots.
Imports of coffee had become impossible in 1916. After the initial use of chicory, the next sort of artificial coffee—Kaffee-ersatz—was made of roasted acorns and beechnuts, with just enough roasted barley to build up a coffee flavour. There were not enough acorns and beechnuts, however as much of the store had been fed to pigs, and before long the excellent acorn-beechnut coffee disappeared. Enter "Ersatz Karotte Kaffee" made with carrots and yellow turnips - dried roots and roasted.
As early as 1918, carrot was becoming more recognised as a healthy eating option. It was also promoted during World War One, mainly as a substitute for rationed goods.
Carrot were of course a prominent foodstuff for the millions of horses and mules which were a significant mode of transport during the conflict.
Image right - Produced in France around 1915, Cultivons Notre Potager (Let’s Dig Our Vegetable Garden).Jaeger, Louisette (artist)
Extract From : Everyday Foods in War Time, by Mary Swartz Rose, 1918
"Some of our very common vegetables are good sources of the calcium (lime) and phosphorus so freely supplied in milk. Among these may be taken as an example the carrot, which has not had due recognition in many quarters and in some is even spoken of contemptuously as "cattle food." Its cheapness comes from the fact that it is easy to grow and easy to keep through the winter and should not blind us to its merits.
A good-sized carrot (weight one-fourth pound) will have only about half the fuel value of a medium-sized potato, but nearly ten times as much calcium as the potato and about one-third more phosphorus. While actual figures show that other vegetables, especially parsnips, turnips, celery, cauliflower, and lettuce, are richer in calcium than the carrot, its cheapness and fuel value make it worthy of emphasis.
Everyone who has a garden should devote some space to this pretty and palatable vegetable. It is perhaps at its best when steamed till soft without salting and then cut up into a nicely seasoned white sauce; its sweetness will not then be destroyed nor its salts lost in the cooking water. It is not only useful as a hot vegetable, but in salads, in the form of a toothsome marmalade, and as the foundation of a steamed pudding.
For little children it is most wholesome and they should make its acquaintance by the time they are a year and a half old, in the form of a cream soup. A dish of carrots and peas (one-half cup peas, one-fourth cup carrot cubes, one-half cup white sauce) will have almost the same food values (for fuel, calcium, phosphorus, and iron) as an equivalent serving of oatmeal, milk, and sugar (three-fourths cup cooked oatmeal, one-half cup milk, one rounding teaspoon sugar) and will add variety to the diet without costing a great deal more unless one pays a fancy price for peas."
Recipe for Carrot & Potato Soup - (serve 4) Potatoes, 3 medium Water, 2 cups Flour, 4 tablespoons Soup greens Onion, 2 slices Sprigs of parsley Milk, 1½ cups Carrot, 1 Fat, 1½ tablespoons Salt and pepper Stalk of celery Wash and pare potatoes. Cook in boiling salted water until they are soft. Rub through colander. Use water in which potatoes were cooked to make up the two cups of water for the soup. Cook carrot cut in cubes in boiling water until soft; drain. Scald milk with onion, celery, and parsley. Add milk and water to potatoes. Melt fat in sauce pan, add flour, and cook for three minutes. Slowly add soup, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute, season with salt and pepper. Add cubes of carrots and serve.
Also published in 1918 - Foods that will win the war and how to cook them by C. Houston Goudiss and Alberta M. Goudiss included recipes using carrots as meat substitutes, a carrot salad, cream of carrot soup and a recipe for Carrot or Pumpkin Marmalade!
Carrot Salad - Grind raw carrot in food chopper. Make French dressing with chicken fat instead of oil. Mix ingredients and serve. 1 cup raw carrots ½ cup oil (preferably oil from chicken fat) 1 tablespoon vinegar ½ teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon parsley ⅛ teaspoon paprika.
D.M. Ferry & Co.; Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection, 1921
Danvers (Illinois) Township Home Bureau Unit Cook Book, 1921
CARROT PUDDING 1 pound grated carrots 3/4 lb. chopped suet 1/2 lb. raisins 1/2 lb. currants Steam 4 hours, sauce. 4 tablespoons sugar 8 tablespoons flour Spices to suit the taste Place in oven for 20 minutes. Serve with Sauce
Sauce - 1 cup butter 2 cups powdered sugar 1/2 cup wine Beat butter to cream. Add sugar gradually. When light add wine which has been heated. Place in bowl of water and stir until smooth. — Mrs. Wm. C. Allen
The Art of German Cooking and Baking (1922) by Lina Wachtelborn Meier.
In 1936 in a publication entitled 'Cookery - Illustrated and Household Management' there was reference to the "Nursery Breakfast" - Young children should have milk at every meal, fresh fruit and vegetables, such a raw carrot - preferably grated - and two or three eggs a week. The advice on purchasing carrots was that they should be firm, crisp and medium sized. (picture above)
In 1937 this advertisement appeared in Illinois - note, 3c postage!!
Also in 1937 the list of carrot seeds available became even more extensive - Altringham, Demi Longue, Early Market, Ideal, James Intermediate, Long Surrey, Primo and Selected - Thomas Smith, "Profitable Culture of Vegetables".
1939/45 - World War Two, revived the popularity of the carrot and gave it a rightful place in the kitchen elevated to a new high as a major food source.
The full impact of the re-discovery of carrots is described in the separate page dedicated to how the humble carrot helped win the war! Here
'Doctor Carrot' was invented to help the Ministry of Food promote carrots
heavily as a substitute for other more scarce vegetables.
"The ABC of Vegetable Gardening" published in 1948 (W E Shellwell Cooper) listed the following carrots seeds for sale - Altrincham, Amsterdam Forcing, Autumn King, Chantenay, Demi Longue a Forcer, Early Gem, Early Horn, Early Nantes, Extra Early French Shorthorn, James' Scarlet Intermediate, Long Red Surrey and St. Valery
In the US Department of Agriculture circular dated March 1950 are listed 389 names that have been applied to orange-fleshed carrot varieties or strains. This gave a thorough classification of all varieties of orange rooted carrots found in the US at the time. On the basis of their general or outstanding characteristics these varieties or strains were classified in 9 major groups, as follows: I, French Forcing; II, Scarlet Horn ; III, Oxheart ; IV, Chantenay ; V, Danvers ; VI, Imperator; VII, James' Intermediate; VIII, Long Orange; and IX, Nantes. (Synonymy of Orange-Fleshed Varieties of Carrots M F Babb 1950).
In the 1960's, like so many vegetables, carrots suffered under large-scale food production and industrial distribution methods, where taste was secondary to whether a vegetable could survive packaging and transport. It’s said that suppliers would drop sacks of carrots on the floor and the variety that remained in tact was the one chosen. This resulted in the death of old favourites, not least the Chantenay, which had a reputation as a hard carrot to grow.
Luckily this variety has made quite a comeback because of its lovely sweet taste. Chantenay Carrots, "The everyday carrots you really can enjoy every day!" - Visit Chantenay Carrots for more information.
Because of this vegetable's inherent sweetness, carrot has been used for desserts and sweets long before the ubiquitous carrot cake. The Irish and English make a carrot pudding, the French make a cream with candied slivers of carrots in it, "tzimmes" a sweet carrot stew, is traditional for the Jewish New Year and early New Englanders gave carrot cookies as Christmas gifts. See the recipes page.
Are we amused now by the ancients' attaching such medical importance to the carrot? Why should we be? In America in the past 25 to 30 years the humble carrot has risen from an obscure root, considered mainly as a delicacy for horses, to a position of genuine importance as nutritious, cheap human food.
How did it happen? Our doctors and nutrition experts made us believe carrots are "good for us"; we know that varieties with a deep orange colour are rich in carotene, or provitamin A, found also in other yellow vegetables and in green leaves. Vitamin A is found in such foods of animal origin as fish-liver oils, butter, and egg yolks.
Perhaps the ancient Greeks were the real discoverers of the benefit of carrots in the diet. However, they did not know the reasons and lacked the teaching facilities used to induce us to eat our carrots. Carrots are as important a food to modern man as they were to our early ancestors. Because they are nutrient-dense, portable, delicious and versatile, they meet the needs of today's lifestyles and fit into today's dietary guidelines, driving the campaign to eat more vegetables and less processed food. Check out the Nutrition pages.
The popular carrot, in its orange colour, rules the western carrot world.
There are literally hundreds of varieties to choose from. The most widely
favoured for domestic growers are Autumn King, Nantes and Early Scarlet Horn.
Many countries are now marketing "rainbow" carrots, mixed bags of red, yellow,
white, purple and orange carrots and this novelty attraction seems to be
The challenge to plant breeding today is to forecast the variety features required to cope with uncertain growing conditions tomorrow. Plant breeders in particular those working with biennial crops such as carrots, are used to anticipating the demand for novel varieties by market gardeners 10-20 years ahead. As climate models predict increasing drought stress conditions in agricultural production areas in the next few decades, it is only prudent and consequent to search for drought tolerant germplasm today.
"Manufactured" baby carrots are what you see most often in the shops - these are carrot-shaped slices of peeled and tumbled carrots, invented in the late 1980's as a way of making use of carrots which are too twisted or knobbly for sale as "full-size" carrots. They're passed out on airplanes and sold in plastic containers designed to fit in a car's cup holder. At Disney World, burgers now come two ways: with fries or baby carrots.
Read the full Baby Carrot Story here. Digging the Baby Carrot.
The Future - A Rainbow Carrot?
How do you get people to eat more carrots? You excite their senses. Surprise them, say, with unexpected colour and explosive flavour. It’s a worthwhile tack to take, says Philipp Simon, plant geneticist at the Vegetable Crops Research Unit in Madison, Wisconsin. He should know. Simon, who heads the ARS laboratory on the University of Wisconsin campus, helped elevate the humble carrot to its current prestigious position. Thanks to work he did with colleagues more than 25 years ago, the carrot is now an even better source of dietary vitamin A.
Using classical breeding methods, they helped boost the veggie’s already abundant stores of beta-carotene by 75 percent. Beta-carotene is what our bodies use to make all-important vitamin A, which is crucial for good eye health and a strong immune system. It’s also responsible for the carrot’s orange hue.
Simon would like to sneak in other nutrients too. That’s why, several years ago, he got to wondering: Why settle for just orange? After all, 700 years ago Western Europeans were feasting on carrots that ranged in colour from lemon-yellow to burgundy to purple. We can have the same variety today—and the healthful antioxidants associated with those brightly coloured pigments.
In addition to breeding yellow, red, deep-orange, purple, and even white carrots, Simon aims to create a “rainbow” carrot - a multi-pigmented root that naturally contains several antioxidants, such as lycopene, lutein, and anthocyanin.
Fuel for Cars?
Scientists now believe that bio fuels will be the answer to our energy needs when the oil runs out. One such fuel, perhaps within 10 years, will be carrots - it would take approximately 6000 carrots to drive one mile.
Scientists unveil New 'supercarrot' (from the BBC, Spring 2008)
The new carrot could ward off osteoporosis Scientists in the US say they have created a genetically-engineered carrot that provides extra calcium. They hope that adding the vegetable to a normal diet could help ward off conditions such as brittle bone disease and osteoporosis. Someone eating the new carrot absorbs 41% more calcium than if they ate the old, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study suggests.
The calcium-charged vegetable still needs to go through many safety trials. "These carrots were grown in carefully monitored and controlled environments," said Professor Kendal Hirschi, part of the team at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. Much more research needs to be conducted before this would be available to consumers Professor Kendal Hirschi Baylor College of Medicine "Much more research needs to be conducted before this would be available to consumers." But the scientists nonetheless hope their carrot could ultimately offer a healthier way of consuming sufficient quantities of the mineral.
Dairy foods are the primary dietary source of calcium but some are allergic to these while others are told to avoid consuming too much due to their high fat content. A gene has been altered in the carrot which allows the calcium within it to cross more easily over the plant membranes. On its own, the carrot would not meet the daily requirement of 1,000mg of calcium, but if other vegetables were similarly engineered, intake could be increased dramatically.
It is not the first time the carrot has been tampered with. The orange colour we know is the result of Dutch cultivation in the 17th Century, when patriotic growers turned a vegetable which was then purple into the colour of the national flag. Nor is it the first vegetable to receive a healthy make-over. Genetic engineering is being used to develop potatoes with more starch and less water so that they absorb less oil when fried, producing healthier chips or crisps. Work is also being carried out on broccoli so that it contains more sulforaphane, a chemical which may help people ward off cancer.
Professor Susan Fairweather-Tait of the University of East Anglia said genetically engineering foods to increase their nutrient content was becoming an increasingly important avenue. "People are being told to eat more modestly to prevent weight gain, and many diets now no longer contain everything we need. "There has been great resistance to genetic engineering, but gradually we are moving away from the spectre of 'Frankenstein food' and starting to appreciate the health benefits it may bring."
Researchers have created a new genetically engineered carrot that has 41
percent more calcium than the regular carrot, reports a study in the Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences.
In the US a typical carrot has to travel 1,838 miles to reach your dinner table! (Source: Pirog, Rich, and Andrew Benjamin. "Checking the Food Odometer: Comparing Food Miles for Local Versus Conventional Produce Sales in Iowa Institutions." Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, July 2003. http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/pubs/staff/files/food_travel072103.pdf)
Some modern varieties from Nunhems
|Indigo||Sunlite||Creme de lite||Inca|
|Navajo||Sirkana||Top cut||Black Knight|
Standard Carrots - “This marks a new dawn for the curvy cucumber and
the knobbly carrot,”
European Union bureaucrats are to usher in a new age of acceptance when it comes
to knobbly fruit and vegetables, scrapping the rules dictating that only
"standard" size carrots can be sold in shops.
Modern agriculture has led to a loss of genetic diversity. According to a Worldwatch Institute report in 1999, less than 20% of the vegetable seeds available at the turn of the last century were commercially grown 100 years later. Over 90% of carrot varieties have been lost. In 1903 there were 287 varieties of carrots being grown, but 80 years later there were only 21 types of carrot seed in the US national seed storage laboratory, according to the World Resources Institute.
The developing niche market interest in “heirloom” coloured varieties of carrots and the increasing popularity of organic foods promises to be beneficial for carrot crops. Should a surplus in fresh carrots occur, the low production cost makes oil processing economical for farms. There is also a market for essential oils and juices for use in beverages, confectionaries, perfumes and flavors. Shipping and storage conditions are critical for carrots as temperature, hydration status, and separate storage space must be highly controlled to maximize marketability.
The carrot is one of the most important vegetables in the western world.
For the latest developments please refer to the Museum's
"Today" page here.
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