The carrot industry excels at growing and selling cheap and cosmetically perfect roots. But the major casualty in this is flavour. There is no place for smaller growers, imperfect soils or a carrot that has suffered any degree of damage, is lower in yield, inconsistent in shape or lacks the robustness to stand up to the mechanical handling essential to reducing costs. Flavour is always subjective but it is interesting how Nairobi, the variety that makes up over half the UK carrot crop, consistently comes out bottom in all our taste trials at Riverford. Variety is the main factor in flavour, but it is noticeable that the flavour of a particular variety varies according to region and soil type. Our experience is that roots taste better if grown more slowly on a healthy, mixed, balanced soil with a minimum of irrigation, rather than at high densities on pure sand, fed with soluble fertilisers and copious irrigation. Our relatively heavy soil makes harvesting hard work but we think it pays dividends in terms of flavour.
The current variety in the boxes is Nepal, which combines flavour with sufficient robustness to survive mechanical harvest. The carrots were harvested last autumn and kept in cold store over winter to last through spring. As spring gets closer carrots are best stored in the bottom of your fridge, but at the moment they should keep for several weeks in a paper bag in a cool veg rack. If they are muddy, soak them in water for a few minutes to loosen the worst of it before preparation. The autumn crop usually scrubs up well, so there should be no need to get out your peeler quite yet.
Jane in our Field Kitchen restaurant considers carrots an abused vegetable, usually just chopped up and boiled. There is much more you can do to exploit their natural sweetness by avoiding water and perhaps roasting or cooking them with a little butter instead. Jane serves a very moreish dish of sweet honey-glazed carrots in the Field Kitchen. To make this, put chopped carrots into a pan with a knob of butter, a tablespoon of honey and a splash of water. Simmer until tender, add some drops of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of chopped parsley. At this time of year, carrots are also good mashed up with swede, butter and black pepper to accompany your Sunday roast.