Monday, September 17, 2007

Carrots weren't always orange.

My first memory involving a carrot--or at least a vivid one at a young age--is me pulling up a thin little carrot from our garden and feeding it to my rabbit, Fuzzy, through the bars. And she bit me.

Then we moved and gave her to Kelsey Creek Farm. (This is not a euphemism, she actually did go to live at a farm and I saw her later).

"Carrots were originally purple or red, with a thin root. The species did not turn orange until the 1500's when Dutch agricultural scientists and growers used a mutant yellow carrot seed from North Africa to develop a carrot in the colour of the House of Orange, the Dutch Royal Family. In an attempt to "nationalize" the country's favourite vegetable they began experiments on improving the pale yellow versions by cross breeding them with red varieties. These varieties contain beta carotene to produce orange-coloured roots."

"Carrots were recognised as one of the plants in the garden of the Egyptian king Merodach-Baladan in the eighth century B.C. It was placed amongst the aromatic herbs along with fennel, suggesting that the root was discounted, using only the pleasantly scented flowers and leaves in cooking."

Huh, I don't recall ever seeing or smelling carrot flowers. Now I want to grow some! I'd love a garden; there's so little light in my apartment that my houseplants have a hard time of it, and I think I'm going to install a grow light for them.

"The Greeks had three words each of which could be applied to the properties of the carrot: "Sisaron", first occurring in the writings of Epicharmus, a comic poet (500 B.C.); "Staphylinos", used by Hippocrates (430 B.C.) and "Elaphoboscum", used by Dioscorides (first century AD)."

Um, what? What do those mean, and did they have applications outside of carrot-hood? Any Greek scholars want to fill me in?

"Pliny died in A.D. 79 while observing the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius. In A.D. 77 he wrote the first encyclopaedia, Historia Naturalis, in which he "set forth in detail all the contents of the entire world." . It was composed of 37 books on natural history in all its phases including meteorology, zoology, geography and botany. This work contains a large amount of information found nowhere else. Headless people were among the many marvels it reported. He reported that it involved 2000 volumes but if so, most have been lost. This work had a profound influence on biology throughout the Middle Ages and practically until the end of the 18th Century. In fact it was the basis for the encyclopaedias of Bartholomaeus Anglicus, Konrad of Megenberg and others."

Cool. (Though this is not directly related to carrots.)

Haha, here is either a very weirdly worded Latin text, or, as I think more likely, a really weird translation. Apparently by someone who thinks "the" is spelled "ye":

"Dioscorides wrote 'ye root ye thickness of a finger, a span long, sweet-smelling, edible being sodden [boiled]. Of this ye seed being drank...and it is good for ye [painful discharge of urine] in potions, and for ye bitings and strokes of venomous beasts; they say also, that they which take it before hand shall take no wrong of wilde beasts. It co-operates also to conception, and it also being [diuretic], both provoketh [poison], and being applied; but the leaves being beaten small with honey, and laid on, doth cleanse rapidly spreading destructive ulceration of soft tissues.' He recommended the seeds of Wild Carrot for the relief of urinary retention, to stimulate menstruation and to 'wake up the genital virtue.'"


"Apicius Czclius, (ad 14-37) a wealthy Roman merchant of the reign of Tiberius, whose real name was Marcus Gavio, was the greatest expert of gastronomy in antiquity and devoted his life and own money to the art of cooking. He taught haute cuisine under Augustus and Tiberius and enjoyed the reputation of a wealthy and decadent gourmet.

Stories of his legendary wealth and excesses abounded and he passed in to history as a kind of croesus of the kitchen. Apicius is primarily remembered as a deranged, sadistic and extravagant tyrant. The historian Aelius Lampridius depicts him feasting on flamingo's' brains, the heads of parrots, sow's udder and vegetables seasoned with precious jewels."


Anonymous said...

I love carrots.

Anonymous said...

Hey Emily, this is Dion. I'll send you an e-mail soon. I was wondering what you were up to and looked you up, and I've been going through all your awesome links for the last hour.

Anyway, I'll take a crack at the Greek words for carrot:

Sisaron: I don't recognize this word.

Staphylinos: In modern Greek, this means "grape-like"

Elaphoboscum: Well, it looks like this has been Latinized from "elaphoboskos", which in any case means "deer-herder" or "deer-guide"

Cheers, talk to you soon,