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Heirloom Radishes and Carrots

July 22, 2014 - Radio Kitchen - Heirloom Radishes and Carrots
Our national celebration has just past, so it's a good time to consider the great heritage America's farms have bestowed upon us.  During this season of tomatoes, corn and watermelons, it's easy to overlook a pair of bit players in the summer, and that would be radishes and carrots.   But we've now started to see some heirloom varieties of these garden greats.

The radish has sunk into obscurity and is now relegated to a minor role as a garnish.  This is mystifying since for generations it was ubiquitous at the dining table.  A French Breakfast radish was just that:  a mild and tender radish that played a refreshing role in a morning meal.  Perhaps over-reliance on harsh tasting "commercially sensible" cultivars drove us away.  But a number of heirloom varieties have been revived, and are available at the market or as seed packs for the home garden.

The first thing you will notice whilst looking up radish varieties is the wide variety of shape and color.  They are not just limited to little red golf ball sized vegetables.  Here are some that are available from seed companies:   

Watermelon:  round, dirty white skin, bright purple interior.
French Breakfast:  torpedo shaped, red with a white tip, white flesh.
Black Spanish:  round, large and dead black exterior, white flesh.
White Icicle:  the name says it all; carrot-shaped, pale yellow.
White Globe Hailstone:  again, the name says it all.
China Rose:  pepper red, long sausage shaped.
Daikon:  a giant of a radish, pale yellow or white.
German Giant:  round, red and can grow the size of a tennis ball.

The important thing to note is that each and every radish seems to have its own flavor, so the more you try, the more you'll discover.

Carrots are a different story, and while they are rarely the featured ingredient, their use is ubiquitous.  The notable sweetness of the carrot makes it useful in all manner of savory cooking as a potent offset for bitter, sour flavors.

What we don't know is that the orange carrot is a relatively new development.

Originally, the carrot was bred for its aromatic flowers and seeds, not its taproot.    We believe that the original domesticated carrots were either yellow or purple.  In 17th century Holland, whose national color is orange, an orange carrot was developed, and became a symbol of independence from Spain.  Today many varieties are available;  here are a few sold as seeds:

Chantenay:  A classic carrots, short stumpy and packed with sugar.
Amarillo:  lemon yellow color, with bright yellow flesh.
Atomic red:  classic shape, but bright red color.
Cosmic Purple:  A new cultivar, with purple skin and orange flesh.    
Jaune Obtuse du Doubs:  A French variety, bright yellow skin and flesh.
Kuroda:  A stubby orange, very popular in Asian markets.
Limburgse Gele Van Mollenstaart:  An old fashioned green yellow carrot from Belgium.
Little Finger:  A cute baby orange carrot.
Pusa Asita Black:  A new variety developed in India and black as coal.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.