Growing carrots in pots

I have never been successful with growing carrots in the ground.  Either they have germinated or just haven’t grown well.  I have always gardened on stony soil and that is never good for root vegetables.  Last year in my Italian gardening magazine (which isn’t noted for innovative ideas) they suggested growing carrots in containers as part of a decorative display.  I wasn’t really interested in growing the carrots with flowers but it did make me think that I should try carrots in pots for their own sake.

I had previously purchased some Carrot Purple Haze F1 Hybrid because purple carrots used to be famous in Viterbo and I wanted to astound my viterbese friends who had all assured me that these carrots were no longer available! (See below for the full story).

In November last year I put my own compost into a large pot; stupidly I didn’t leave it a while for the weed seeds to germinate so I probably lost some of the crop when I was taking out the weeds that grew – I won’t make that mistake again, I’ll fill the pots, water well, keep watered to encourage any weed seeds to germinate so I can remove them prior to sowing the carrots.

I left the pot in the greenhouse all winter and now the carrots are ready and are delicious!  I will try to be organised enough now to always have a couple of pots at different stages so I have lovely sweet carrots when I need them.

The carrots Of Viterbo

The carrots of Viterbo in aromatic dressing are a special preparation based on a particular variety of carrots, the most common “daucus carota var. sativa”, of the umbelliferae family, which come in many colours (white, red, yellow, violet) and shapes (long, short, cylindrical, conical, top-shaped). These carrots are not to be mistaken for the beet-root as Ada Boni did in her famous “Talisman of happiness” where she titled the recipe “Beetroots in aromatic dressing (carrots of Viterbo)” and continued with the description “for this recipe are used not the common round beet-roots but the long-shaped ones, similar to the yellow carrots…..In Viterbo it is easy to find these dried beet-roots, twined and of dark colour”. Unfortunately, today this particular variety of carrots has disappeared, but it has been replaced by the common yellow carrot because the uniqueness of the dish does not depend on the variety of carrot but in the preparation of the recipe.  But we do not know when this dish was created?

The skin is tinted purple

In the book of expenses of the Convent of the Holy Trinity of Viterbo, dated December 1467, the expenses paid by Friar Cristoforo who had to pay a “bolognino” (an ancient money unit) at the People’s Gate as toll for entering the town with some carrots bound to be a gift for the Abbot are written.  Both the toll paid and the receiver of the gift prove that these carrots where not a common but a luxury produce.  Platina (1400) in his “De onesta voluptate et valetudine” at chapter 108 of the fifth tome, titled “carota e pastinaca”, says “the market garden carrots are tastier, especially those of Viterbo”.  Still another reference to these carrots has been found in the records of the town of Vitorchiano (near Viterbo) in a letter sent by the Conservators of Rome (Roma die sexta Martii 1488) where they ask to be sent a certain quantity of carrots to be ready for the Lent period:  “Per uso dello nostro et per possere fare honore in questo tempo quatragesimale ad alcuni forestieri che adcaschano alla nostra mensa, haveriamo caro essere serviti da voi de qualche carota per posserla confectare”.

Most certainly the sweet-sour preparation of the dish suggests a late medieval origin when sweet-sour dishes were very common.

Towards the end of the last century the trade started of these carrots in special pots and they even won a prize at the Exhibition of 1879; it is said that they were served at dinners organized in Viterbo in honour of Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1876 and of Ferdinand IV.  The Royal Family appreciated them so much that a lady of Viterbo continued to send annually a certain quantity to King Umberto, exiled in Portugal.

In order to prepare the recipe, cut the carrots lengthwise in slices and let them dry in the August sun, then place them in vinegar for some days and heat them in a sweet-sour dressing made of vinegar, sugar, cloves, nutmeg, and – according to personal tastes – chocolate, pine-seeds, raisins, candied fruits, etc.  Maybe, as in so many other cases, each family had its own personal recipe.  The carrots were kept in pottery jars, simply covered by a towel or in case of longer preservation, in sealed pots. This dish mainly accompanied boiled meat and some local delicacy such as boiled salami and “coppa di testa” (pressed pork head meat).

The purple colour penetrates a little way into the carrot but the centre is the usual orange colour