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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Carrot Honey, The Bee Folks, Mount Airy, MD

I don't often think of carrots as having flowers, but they do. The reason, I think, is that most of us dig up our carrots at the end of the summer and don't let them flower or seed. You see, carrots are a biennial crop. This means that they develop their tap root (the bit we think of as a carrot) in the first summer and then they flower and seed in the next. Since most of us don't keep carrots around for that long, to get carrot flowers, in order to get carrot honey, you really need to put  hives near a carrot seed grower- a farmer who grows a carrot crop not for carrots but for the seeds. 

Domesticated carrots, Daucus carota subsp. sativus, are a form of wild carrot, Daucus carota, and are native to Europe and southwestern Asia. The domesticated variety comes from selectively breeding the wild one to produce larger, less woody taproots. Unlike domesticated carrots, you may have seen wild carrots flowing, but you may know them as Queen Anne's Lace (because of their beautiful, white lacy flowers).

Carrots have been around a long time. You can find carrots mentioned in texts as early as circa 500 B.C. in works by Epicharmus. However, the first recorded use of the word in English was around 1530. And if you've read Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor you may have noticed that he mentions them too. The word 'carrot' comes from the Middle French word "carotte," which comes from Late Latin, carōta, which is from the Greek, καρωτόν karōton, which is originally from the Indo-European, ker. This long linguistic history just underlines how carrots have been a part of our world for so long.  
Daucus carota flower

Carrots are root vegetables. While the most common varieties are orange in color, there are also purple, white, red and yellow types too. However, in the past (1500 years ago) carrots were typically white and not always distinguished from parsnips. In addition, while we usually eat the root bit (the taproot), the green, leafy bits are edible too. 

The carrot flower is truly a lovely thing. The  carrot inflorescence (the complete flower head including stems, stalks, bracts and flowers) is a compound umbel (a type of inflorescence consisting of a number of short flower stalks, called pedicels, that spread from a common point like the ribs of an umbrella; the word umbel derives from the Latin umbella, "parasol."). In the carrot the umbel is compound, meaning that there are secondary umbels called umbellets (also referred to as umbellules). A large primary umbel can contain up to fifty umbellets, each with as many as 50 flowers. The flowers, which are white and sometimes tinged green, are dentripetal, meaning that the oldest flowers are near the edge and the youngest ones are in the center. Individual umbels flower for 7 to 10 days, but given the timing and complexity of the arrangement, the whole flowering process may take up to 50 days. Apart from the carrot, fennel, dill and parsley also have these types of flowers. Of interest to gardeners, if left to flower, umbellifers attract predatory wasps that kill many garden pests.
Carrot seeds

Carrots are a good source of vitamin A, K,  and B6, and dietary fiber and are prepared and cooked in a variety of ways and used in a variety of dishes, both sweet and savory. Not surprisingly, carrots are an economically important vegetable crop. China is the largest producer, accounting for about half of the global output, followed by Russia and the US. Of interest, about 3.6 percent of people are allegic to carrots, and since the major carrot allergen is cross-reactive with similar allergens in birch and mugwort pollen, most people who have a carrot allergy also are allergic to these pollens.
Carrot Honey

 I ordered the carrot honey that I have online from The Bee Folks, in Mount Airy, MD. According to their lovely website, this honey comes from farms in the Pacific Northwest that specialize in carrot seed production. Of interest, I've read that Oregon is famous for its seed production, including carrot seeds, so this honey may come from there.  It has a deep, amber-red color and is quite thick. It has a very interesting and complex flavor. It starts out floral with an almost musky, grassy tone that gradually become spicy and a little smoky, a cross between the taste of Indian incense and anise, and then it ends with a cooked carrot kind of taste. I know my description sounds odd, but it is difficult to describe and this is as close as I can get to it. You'll just have to order some and see for yourself! I think this honey may be too complex to use in baking; I think you'd lose the flavor. But it is delicious out of the jar, and would be quite nice in hot cereal, on hot buttered toast, and perhaps in dark hot tea.

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