Posted by: oysterculture | April 12, 2009

William of Orange, his carrots and a brilliant Dutch marketing ploy

carrots from Mariquita farm my CSA (photo from mariquita.com)

carrots from Mariquita farm my CSA (photo from mariquita.com)

Carrots are some of my favorite vegetables.  We get them regularly in our CSA (consumer sustainable agriculture) box, and they look and taste delicious.   The carrots from my CSA are colored so much deeper and richer, that I am accustomed to.   The farmers keeps the greens on top and they almost look like an inverted bouquet; a far cry from the sanitized carrots in a plastic bag of my youth.

Did you know that carrots were not always orange?  Those wonderful colored carrots found in gourmet grocery stores and farmers markets that are white, red, purple – just about any color other than orange may be considered true carrot colors.  Apparently in a burst of marketing genius to honor their leader, William of Orange, the Dutch cultivated the carrot to grow in that lovely color of orange.  Given the newly devised specimen offered a few advantages such as it tasted better, and it did not leech its color onto cookware;  it was quickly adopted by Western cooks as the carrot of choice.

Some proponents argue that the Dutch stealthily created the orange carrot to nationalize this popular vegetable.   A more plausible belief is that Dutch horticulturists found a mutant orange colored carrot variety, and through selective breeding developed a consistently orange carrot.  Along the way, with a little help from cross-breeding, they refined and intensified the orange color we know today.  

The carrot is a root vegetable with a crisp texture when fresh. The edible part of a carrot is a taproot, which is a domesticated form of the wild carrot  native to Europe and southwestern Asia.  This biennial plant grows a rosette of leaves in the spring and summer, while building up the stout taproot that stores enough sugars for the plant to flower in the second year.  The flowering stem grows to about 1 metre (3′) tall, with white flowers that produce a fruit called a mericarp.

Uses and nutrition

The possible ways to eat carrots seem endless: raw, boiled, mashed, sliced, diced, sauteed, sweet to savory … baby food to pet food.   The carrot gets its characteristic bright orange colour from β-carotene, which is metabolised into vitamin A in humans.  Note the other colored carrots do not have this level of β-carotene so do not offer the same nutritional benefits – this was another reason that the orange carrots of today were readily adopted.  Carrots of all colors are also rich in dietary fibre, antioxidants, and minerals.  Lack of Vitamin A can cause poor vision, including night vision, but vision can be restored by modifying the diet to include Vitamin A. 

Close Family Members

In early use, carrots were grown for their aromatic leaves and seeds, not their roots.  Some relatives of the carrot are still grown in this manner such as parsley, fennel, dill and cumin.  Parsnips as you might have guessed are also a relative.

Fun Carrot Facts

  • The world’s largest carrot was grown in Palmer, Alaska by John Evans in 1998, weighing 8.6 kg (19#).
  • The world’s longest carrot recorded in 2007 was 5.839 meters (19’~2″) by Joe Atherton, UK
  • Holtville, CA calls itself the “Carrot Capital of the World”, and holds an annual festival devoted to the carrot. 
  • The wild ancestor of the carrot most probably came from Afghanistan.
  • Carrots were first grown as medicine, not food.
  • Carrots produce more distilled spirits than potatoes.
  • Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, did not like carrots.
  • Too many carrots can cause hypercarotenemia, a condition in which the skin turns orange. 
  • The urban legend that says eating large amounts of carrots will allow one to see in the dark stemmed from stories of British gunners in World War II who shot down German planes at night. The legend arose during the Battle of Britain when the RAF circulated a story about their pilots’ carrot consumption to cover up the use of radar in engaging enemy planes.  The rumors reinforced German folklore and encouraged Britons—looking to improve their night vision to eat the vegetable.

all shapes and sizes

all shapes and sizes

Carrot cultivars are grouped into two classes, eastern carrots and western carrots.  

Eastern carrots were domesticated in Central Asia, probably in modern-day Afghanistan, around the 10th century.  Eastern carrot are commonly purple or yellow, and often have branched roots. Their purple color comes from anthocyanin pigments.  

Western carrots came later than Eastern their brethran.  While orange carrots are the norm in the West, other colors including white, yellow, red, and purple – all of which existed first.  However, given oranges enormous popularity, these varieties are raised primarily as novelty crops.  Western carrots are commonly classified by their root shape:

  • Chantenay carrots are shorter than other cultivars, but have greater girth, sometimes growing up to 8 cm (3″) in width. They have a broad top tapering to a blunt, rounded tip. They are commonly diced for use in prepared foods.
  • Danvers carrots have a conical shape, having well-defined shoulders and tapering to a point at the tip. They are somewhat shorter than Imperator cultivars, but more tolerant of heavy soil.  Danvers are often puréed as baby food. They were developed in 1871 in Danvers, Massachusetts.
  • Imperator carrots are the most common carrot sold in U.S. grocery stores; their roots are longer than other carrots, and taper to a point.
  • Nantes carrots are nearly cylindrical in shape, and are blunt and rounded at both ends. Nantes are often sweeter than other carrots. 

Carrot Top Soup

Serves 4  (recipe from Local Flavors by Deborah Madion)

  • 1 bunch small to medium sized carrots with tops and roots
  • 2 T butter
  • 3 T white rice
  • 2 large leeks, white part only
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 T chopped dill, parslet, celery leaves or lovage
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 c homemade vegetable stock

Directions

Pluck the lacey leaves of the carrot greens off their stems, so you have between 2 -3 cups, loosely packed.  Wash, then finely chop and grate the carrots.

Melt butter in stock pot.  Add carrot tops and carrots, rice, leeks, thyme and dill.  Cook for several minutes, stirring occassionally, season with 1 ½ tsp salt.  Add the stock.  Bring to boil, and simmer until rice is cooked ~ 15 minutes.

Season to taste and serve.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities.  For me, a big part of the appeal is the ability to walk  from one neighborhood to another and see the flow and changes. I’ll never forget my first visit, exiting from Centraal station to a nippy sunny day and seeing all the bicyclists.  I also got my first glimpse of the very impractical, circular bike for six.  

photo from vituraltourist

photo from vituraltourist

Amsterdam is the capital, and largest city of the Netherlands, located in the western part of the country.  Its name is derived from Amstel dam,  which indicates the city’s origin: a dam in the river Amstel where the Dam Square is today.    Amsterdam became one of the world’s most important ports during the Dutch Golden Age because of its innovative trading ideas. During that time, the city led the world in finance and diamonds.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, the city expanded, adding new neighborhoods and suburbs.  Amsterdam’s main attractions, include its historic canals, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank’s House, its red-light district, and its many cannabis coffee shops, draws 4.2 million tourists annually, making it the 5th busiest tourist destination in Europe.

 The river Amstel terminates in the city center into numerous canals before winding up in the IJ.  Amsterdam is justly famous for these canals, allowing it to thrive at only 2 meters above sea level.

Amsterdam is intensely urbanized area with 220 square kilometers of land, the city has a population density of 4,457 inhabitants and 2,275 houses per square kilometer.  With Amsterdam Centraal railway station as the epicenter, the city fans out from here.  Within easy walking distance from the station is the oldest area of the town known as de Wallen (the quays) and contains the city’s famous red light district.

De Wallen, also known as Walletjes or Rosse Buurt, is designated for legalized prostitution and is Amsterdam’s largest and most famous red-light district.  It consists of a network of roads and alleys containing several hundred small, one-room apartments rented by female sex workers who offer their services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights. The area has numerous sex shops, theaters, peep shows, museums, and the cannabis coffee shops.  On my first visit, I had no idea what to expect, and I thought there would literally be flashing lights alerting me to the fact that I was entering the red light district.  I found no such thing.  Instead, it slowly dawned on me that I in the midst of the district while taking a stroll after dinner, when the tableaux in the windows got to be very interesting.   To say, I had never seen anything like this in the Midwest was an understatement, and it also served as a lesson that I really needed to pay more attention when I strolled.

This rapid transition from one neighborhood to the next reinforced for me how compact these cities really are.  Growing up in Rochester, Minnesota, home of the Mayo Clinic, we had many visitors from Europe, and it was obvious that we operated based on different geographical scales.  Several visitors expressed their desire  to drive to Disneyland for the weekend, only to report back that they made it to Missouri before giving up.  

History

The end of the 19th century is sometimes called Amsterdam’s second Golden Age.  New museums, a train station, and the Concertgebouw were built, as the Industrial Revolution reached the city. The Amsterdam-Rhine Canal was dug to connect Amsterdam to the Rhine, and the North Sea Canal gave the port a shorter connection to the North Sea (much like the connection allowing Duluth, Minnesota to be recognized as the farthest removed ocean port in America). Both projects dramatically improved commerce with the rest of Europe and the world.  

 Tulips

a favorite and much used souvenir from Rijksmuseum

a favorite and much used souvenir from Rijksmuseum

If you know one thing about the Dutch, know they have a long, passionate and tulmultous relationship with tulips.  Well, really, who could blame them?  Tulips were introduced to Europe in the mid-16th century via the Ottoman Empire, and became very popular in what is now the Netherlands.  Tulip cultivation started around 1593 after the Flemish botanist Charles de l’Écluse accepted a post at the University of Leiden and established the hortus academicus.  There, he planted his tulip bulbs—sent to him from Turkey by the Emperor’s ambassador to the Sultan —which could tolerate the local climate, and soon after they gained popularity.

The flower rapidly became a coveted luxury item and status symbol, and a profusion of varieties followed. They were classified in groups; one-coloured tulips of red, yellow, or white were known as Couleren, and considered relatively ho hum.  It was the multicoloured Rosen (red or pink on white background), Violetten (purple or lilac on white background), and, to a lesser extent, the Bizarden (red, brown or purple on yellow background) that sparked unheard of zeal.  These spectacular and highly sought-after tulip bulbs would flowers with vivid colors, lines, and flames on the petals, as a result of being infected with a tulip-specific virus known as the “Tulip breaking virus”, a type of mosaic virus.

Growers named their new varieties with exalted titles. Many early forms were prefixed Admirael “admiral”, often coupled with the growers’ names—Admirael van der Eijckwas perhaps the most highly prizedof the fifty odd varieties so  named.  Later varieties came with even grander names, derived from Alexander the Great or Scipio, and not to be out done even “Admiral of Admirals” and “General of Generals”.   Many of these varieties are no longer around as quality was fleeting and suspect.

Tulips grow from bulbs, and can be propagated through both seeds and buds. Seeds from a tulip will form a flowering bulb after 7–12 years.  When a bulb grows into the flower, the original bulb disappears, replaced by a clone bulb and several buds.  Properly cultivated, these buds become bulbs of their own.  Tulips bloom in April and May for only about a week, and the secondary buds appear shortly thereafter.  Bulbs can be uprooted and moved between June to September, and the actual purchases (in the spot market) occurred during these months.

During the rest of the year, traders signed notarized contracts to purchase tulips at the end of the season ( in finance terms these contracts are called futures contracts).  Thus the Dutch, who developed many modern finance techniques, created a market for tulip bulbs.   Short selling was banned in edict 1610, and this demand was reiterated on a few subsequent occassions.  Short sellers were not prosecuted under these edicts, but their contracts were deemed unenforceable. 

As the flowers gained popularity, professional growers paid increasingly higher prices for bulbs with the virus.  By 1634, in part because of French demand, speculators entered the market.  In 1636, the Dutch created a type of futures markets where contracts to buy bulbs at the end of the season were exchanged. Traders met in “colleges” at taverns, and buyers were required to pay a 2.5% “wine money” fee  per trade.  No deliveries were ever made because of the market collapse in February 1637.  The Dutch derogatorily described tulip contract trading as windhandel (literally “wind trade”), because no bulbs actually changed hands.   (Is it just me, or does this story have some parallels to today’s housing market?)

Cuisine

Dutch cuisine like English cuisine has a bad rap. Dutch national dishes tend to be ungarnished, hearty, and wholesome — solid stuff, but, well – bland.   A perfect example is erwtensoep, a thick pork-accented pea soup that offers warmth against cold Dutch winters.  Similarly, hutspot a stew of  potatoes, carrots, and onions is straighforward nourishment. Hutspot main ingredient – the potato – along with some good stories insures its continued popularity.

Seafood, as you might imagine  is a big deal.  You can expect to find, depending on season,  Zeeland oysters and mussels (Zeeuwsoesters and Zeeuwsmosselen), and herring pickled or “new” – fresh from the North Sea and eaten raw.  If you happen to be in Holland for the start of the herring season in June, try a “green” (raw) herring with onions from a fish stall, or haringhuis. Look for signs that say “Hollandse Nieuwe” (Holland’s New).  Great excitement surrounds the season’s first catch, divided between the queen and restaurateurs amid spirited competition.  At fish stalls, you can get snacks of baked fish, smoked eel, and seafood salads – perfect for a make shift picnic.

The Indonesian rijsttafel is Holland’s favorite feast; it has been ever since sea captains introduced it to the wealthy Amsterdam burghers in the 17th century. The rijsttafel (literally, “rice table”) originated with Dutch plantation overseers in Indonesia, who liked to sample local cuisine.  It became a tradition upheld by Indonesian migrants to Holland who opened restaurants and, knowing the Dutch fondness for rijsttafel, shrewdly made it a standard menu item. Rijsttafels are only a small part of an Indonesian restaurant’s menu, and there’s a trend among the Dutch to consider them as “just for tourists”.  However, rijsttafels remain popular, and many other ethnic restaurants have adopted the idea.

The basic concept of a rijsttafel is to graze and appreciate the blending flavors and textures.   A simple, unadorned bed of rice is the foundation of all the dishes.   The dishes are small and the portions are based on the number of people expected to share.  The idea is to sample many things, not fixate on a single item.  Also, an Indonesian rijsttafelhas no separate courses. Once your table has been set, all the dishes arrive simultaneously, like a culinary tidlewave, and the diners are expected to plot their own course through the meal.

Among the customary dishes and ingredients of a rijsttafel are loempia (Chinese-style egg rolls); satay, or sateh (small pork kebabs, grilled and served with spicy peanut sauce); perkedel (meatballs); gado-gado (vegetables in peanut sauce); daging smoor (beef in soy sauce); babi ketjap (pork in soy sauce); kroepoek (crunchy, puffy shrimp toast); serundeng (fried coconut); roedjak manis (fruit in sweet sauce); and pisang goreng (fried banana).

You may be surprised at the number of Indoneasian restaurants, but remember the long history that binds these two countries.  A fact I was grateful for as I consumed many wonderful plates of nasi goering on my visits.  This interest in Indonesian is no different that the British obsession with Indian curry.

A few traditional options

Croquetten — Fried croquettes of meat, prawns, or gooey cheese.  They’re are at their best when served hot and accompanied with mustard for dunking.  They do not warnl you, but  they are also addicting. 

Pannekoeken & Poffertjes — These Dutch pancakes are the equivalent of French crepes, and they’re served flat on a dinner plate, topped with powdered sugar, jam, syrup, hot apples, or in typical Dutch style with hot ginger sauce. Less common are pannekoeken with meat. Poffertjes are small fried-pancake “puffs” coated with powdered sugar and filled with syrup or liqueur.

Hutspot— A stew made of beef ribs, carrots, onions, and potatoes, often mashed together. This is a dish with historic significance, particularly for the people of Leiden: It’s the Dutch version of the stew found in the boiling pots left behind after the Spaniards were evicted after a long siege during the Eighty Years’ War.  It was also popular during World War II as the pototaes, a key component, were hidden by virtue of the fact that they grew underground.

(great starter list on foods from Frommners

Architecture

classic blue and white Dutch pitcher

classic blue and white Dutch pitcher

You have only to start walking in any of the neighborhoods to experience Amsterdam’s rich architectural history. The oldest building in Amsterdam is het Houten Huys at the Begijnhof.  This building was constructed around 1425 and is one of only two existing wooden buildings, and a rare example of gothic architecture in Amsterdam.  In the 16th century, brick replaced wood buildings, following the Renaissance architectural style recognized for their façades which end at the top in a stairway shape – common in Dutch Renaissance style.  

At the end of the nineteenth century, the Jugendstil style became popular (similar to Prague) and many new buildings were constructed.   The last style that was popular in Amsterdam before the modern era was Art Deco, with Amsterdam’s version called the Amsterdamse School.  

The old city’s center is the epicenter of all the architectural styles before the end of the nineteenth century.  Jugendstil and Art Deco are mostly found outside the city’s center in the neighbourhoods built in the early twentieth century.  To me this architecture is very unique and I really enjoyed heading to the suburbs to check out the buildings out first hand.

Government

Like all Dutch municipalities, Amsterdam is governed by a mayor, aldermen, and the municipal council.  But, unlike most other Dutch municipalities, Amsterdam is subdivided into fifteen stadsdelen (boroughs), a system that was implemented in the 1980s to improve local governance. The stadsdelen are responsible for many activities that had previously been run by the central city.  Local decisions are made at borough level, and only affairs pertaining to the whole city, such as major infrastructure projects, are handled by the central city council.  

I am not certain Amsterdam is the only exception, but it is certainly unique in that, while the Dutch capital city, Amsterdam is not the seat of government.  The Parliament and the Supreme Court are located in The Hague, along with the foreign embassies.  

Religion

In 1578 the previously Roman Catholic city of Amsterdam joined the revolt against Spanish rule.  In line with Protestant procedure of that time, all churches were “reformed” to the Protestant worship. Calvinism became the dominant religion, and although Catholicism was not forbidden and, the Catholic hierarchy was prohibited, leading to schuilkerken, covert churches, which hid behind seemingly ordinary facades.  As they became established, other Christian denominations used converted Catholic chapels to conduct their own services. The oldest Church of England building outside the United Kingdom is at the Begijnhof.  

In the second half of the 17th century, Amsterdam experienced an influx of  Jews from Central and Eastern Europe, which continued into the 19th century.  The first who arrived were refugees from the Chmielnicki Uprising in Poland, and the Thirty Years War. They not only founded their own synagogues, but influenced the ‘Amsterdam dialect’ adding a large Yiddish local vocabulary.  Amsterdam’s nickname of Mokum, the Yiddish word for the Hebrew makom (“town”), is evidence of this integration.  Most recent religious changes in Amsterdam are due to immigration from former colonies.  Islam is now the largest non-Christian religion.  Although the saying “Leven en laten leven” or “Live and let live” summarises the Dutch and especially the Amsterdam open and tolerant society, the increased influx of many races, religions, and cultures after the second world war, has occasionally strained relations.  With 176 different nations represented, Amsterdam has more nationalities than any other city in the world. 

Museums

The Rijksmuseumhouses the largest (at ~ 1 million) and most significant collection of classical Dutch art.  When most people think of this museum, they think of Rembrandt, whose work is predominantly displayed here.  Rembrandt’s masterpiece the Nightwatch is one of top pieces of art of the museum, like Mona Lisa is to the Louvre.  Van Gogh lived in Amsterdam for a short while, so there is a museum dedicated to his early work.  The museum is housed in one of the few modern buildings in this area of Amsterdam.  The Van Gogh museum is the most popular museum in Amsterdam.  Next to the Van Gogh museum stands the Stedelijk Museum which is Amsterdam’s largest modern art museum.

If you are traveling to Europe this summer, consider Amsterdam.  If you go, be sure to eat your carrots, as you can expect to do a lot of site seeing =^).

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Responses

  1. I love carrots especially when they are fresh or in soups. =)

    I’d love to visit Amsterdam on day. There’s such a rich history to the place. I remember a friend of mine had visited there a few years back and fell in love with the city.

  2. Great info on carrots and Amsterdam! It reminded me that I’ve promised to make a blended carrot soup for my daughter a while ago and never got around to it. Amsterdam is definitely on our list to visit soon! I haven’t been there yet 🙂

  3. I didn’t know orange was not the original carrot color. So interesting! The carrot top soup sounds delicious. I just got that book!

  4. I still can’t get over the fact that the voice of bugs bunny did not like carrots. I love carrots, but only in their raw state. can’t stand cooked carrots! ew! but pureed as soup, I’d love. never tried it though.
    wow. Amsterdam sounds like a very cool and delicious place! I’d love to visit with an empty stomach.

  5. You’re always full of good info. Sweet, sweet carrots. That’s how we like ’em.

  6. You will love Amsterdam, and when you go, please tell me what you think!

  7. I find the red/purple carrots to be a little sweeter and they looks so gorgeous in a salad – I like doing long strips with a veg peeler.

    On Amsterdam – A real jem in Europe and a city worth visiting over and over. I was amazed by the delicious and unexpected Indonesian and Thai restaurants. My favorite was actually an apple pancake I had with thin, round slices of fresh apple cooked right in the batter.

    They also have really cool Poffertjes griddles. They can cook at least 50 at once in these large cast iron griddles with little pockets for the baby pancakes.

  8. Hi Gastroanthropology,

    I agree the red/purple carrots are striking and add wonderful contrast to salads.

    The griddles sound very interesting and fun to watch in action. I’ll have to check them out.

  9. LouAnn, surprise!!!

    I’ve never been to Amsterdam (does visiting the airport or having a clear aerial view count?), but I’d like to do it someday. It seems to be such a pretty place, I enjoyed reading about it. I am lucky that the Netherlands came to me in a way, though. I hosted a Dutch student through Hospitality Club, and we became friends. She told me about her culture, and even cooked for me. Hutspot! Delicious meal – I’m a big potato fan, so. Thanks to her we have sweet memories to remember. She’s leaving my country for home, and I’ll say goodbye to her today.

    Ozge

  10. Hi Ozge, what a wonderful surprise and a great way to start my day!

    Ah so you got to try the hutspot – good hearty stuff. I bet your ready to explore more of their food now. I love the way lifelong connections are made through simple things like the Hospitality Club – I bet if you ever make your way to the Netherlands you have a tour guide. Some of my lifelong friends came from similar clubs in school.

    We’ll count the airport for you =^) Are you interested in going back to visit?

  11. So am I the only one who never thought to use the green carrot tops for something? I bow my head in shame, and promise to use them from now on. 😉

  12. FoodGal, you are not alone, I was a non-user as well, but am now a convert thanks mostly to this recipe.

  13. Somehow, I have managed to get seriously behind in my blog reading, so expect a flurry coming your way now 🙂

    As for the carrots, I never knew about the William of Orange association – mind you, that’s probably just as well, because, in certain quarters at least, he’s not exactly the most popular of historical figures in Ireland!


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