My dad has been busy replanting rows of carrot seeds this week, after hungry rabbits have been inviting themselves as unannounced late night dinner guests in the farm gardens.
Not only were carrots on the rabbit family's menu, but also tender young Brussels Sprouts and tomato plants, which were also dug-up and devoured. (My dad even totaled these midnight munchies cost him $8.95 in expense).
Rabbits aren't the only ones who have a passion for carrots.
According to Suzanne Weiss and her book "Foods that Harm, Foods that Heal: An A-Z Guide to Safe and Healthy Eating" (Pegasus Publishing $19.95), carrots rank high on the list of favorite healthy afternoon snack foods and may help lower blood cholesterol levels and protect from cancer. The bonus benefits include being an excellent source of beta carotene, the precursor of vitamin A when converted by the body, as well as a good source of dietary fiber and potassium.
Native to Afghanistan, one large carrot provides 17 mg of beta carotene and more than six times the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin A, the nutrient so essential for healthy hair, skin, eyes, bones with the dual benefit of serving as an antioxidant.
As for the common perception that carrots lend themselves to developing healthy eyesight, consumption does not correct existing vision problems. But as Weiss explains in her book, it's a deficiency of vitamin A that is responsible for night-blindness, the inability of the eyes to adjust to dim lighting and darkness. So it seems the carrot-loving rabbits at our farm likely have no trouble seeing at night to find the rows of their favorite vegetables in the gardens.
As for the debate about whether to eat carrots cooked or raw, either is accepted according to the dieticians I've talked with about the subject. Cooking carrots might even make them even better for the body to digest and absorb the benefits, since the beta carotene is encased in tough cellular walls. And adding just a bit of oil, honey, butter or margarine to cooked carrots is also advisable, since the body needs at least a small amount of fat to convert beta carotene to vitamin A since it is soluble in fat, not water. Because carrots are naturally sweet and so rich in nutrients, they have been traditionally priced as a "beginner's food" for babies served pureed.
Because of the high level of carotenoids, the yellow pigments that are the source of beta carotene in carrots, anyone who eats an excessive amount of carrots can find his or skin turning a faint yellow, a harmless condition which disappears after a week of removing carrots from the diet.
At our farm, we also have lots of "wild carrots" that grow along the fields, woods and ditches. Once fully grown, they are waist high by July and August and bloom into the delicate white flower clusters often called "Queen Anne's lace."
Ironically, on the goofy syndicated forgotten game show called "The $1.98 Beauty Show," which aired from September 1978 to September 1980 created by Chuck Barris, the show's confetti-tossing host, comedian Rip Taylor, would present the winner a bouquet of carrots, in addition to her crown, sash and the whopping prize money of $1.98.
But of all the fun pop culture references to carrots while I was growing up, one of my favorites that fascinated me was from a rerun episode of the silly science fiction television show from Irwin Allen called "Lost in Space," which my mother thought was dumb and didn't like us to watch. In an episode that originally aired Feb. 28, 1968 called "The Great Vegetable Rebellion," it featured a giant alien planet carrot towering 6-feet tall named Tybo, played by actor Stanley Adams, who attempts to turn Dr. Zachary Smith, played by Jonathan Harris, into a giant stalk of celery. At 6-feet in height, imagine how much beta carotene was contained in this monstrous carrot!
Today's kind and gentle recipe for an easy and delicious velvety carrot soup is from my desk neighbor at The Times, Patricia Kincaid, of Hammond, who serves as our newsroom research assistant, as well as our archivist and librarian. She has enjoyed this soup within my midst many times for her lunch, and it always sparks my curiosity. She said when she created it, she made sure to devise it as "non-dairy for lactose-free friends as well as gluten-free."
Mrs. Kincaid's Carrot Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 pound carrots, peeled and chopped
2 (14-1/2 ounce) cartons low-sodium, fat-free chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
Chopped fresh chives or cilantro for garnish
DIRECTIONS: Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 1 carton chicken stock and carrots and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Add the other carton of stock, cumin, honey, salt and white pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until vegetables are very soft, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and cool 30 minutes or more. Puree in batches in blender or food processor, never filling any more than half way. Return to pan and warm over low heat, thinning if necessary with more stock or water. Garnish and serve. Wonderful reheated on a second day, too. A double recipe works well too, and can be frozen for half enjoyed another time. Makes 6 servings.