Monday, February 18, 2008

history of carrot

The bright orange fleshy root vegetable we know today as the carrot is a far cry from its wild ancestor, a small tough, pale fleshed acrid root plant. Probably no one would be eating carrots that were once small, very thin, red, purple, and even black taproots with a distasteful bitterness if no one had taken an interest in improving their flavour. Luckily, some motivated Dutch people took carrots under their horticultural wings and taught them how to be sweet, it's a long story.
The Wild Carrot - Daucus Carota - is one of the many plants which belongs to the natural order Umbelliferae. It is a common plant in pastures and by roadsides and especially likes light soils where it can soon turn into a weed.
To unravel the long history of the Carrot you have to go back a very long way. Fossil pollen from the Eocene period (55 to 34 million years ago) has been identified as belonging to the Apiaceae (the carrot family). The carrot dates back about 5,000 years ago when the root was found to be growing in the area now known as Afghanistan. Temple drawings from Egypt in 2000 BC show a purple plant, which some Egyptologists believe to be a purple carrot. Egyptian papyruses containing information about treatment with carrot and its seeds were found in pharaoh crypts. Throughout the centuries Arab merchants travelled the trade routes of Arabia, Asia and Africa bringing home to their villages the seeds of the purple carrot. During these years the vegetable appeared in a variety of hues ranging from purple to white, pale yellow, red, green/yellow and black (but never orange! - that came about in the 15th century).
In Roman times carrots were purple or white. By the 10th century purple carrots were grown in Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern Iran. Moorish invaders are thought to have brought the purple and yellow variety from North Africa to Southern Europe around the 12th century. By the 13th century carrots are known to have grown in the fields of Germany and France.
Purple, white and yellow carrots were imported to southern Europe in the 14th century. Black, red and green/yellow carrots were also grown. Flemish refugees eventually introduced the vegetable to the shores of England in the 15th century.
The noble carrot has long been known as an orange vegetable thanks to patriotic Dutch growers who bred the vegetable to make it less bitter than the yellow varieties, and then it was adopted it as the Royal vegetable in honour of the House of Orange. Carrots were originally purple or red, with a thin root. The species did not turn orange until the 1500's when Dutch agricultural scientists and growers used a mutant yellow carrot seed from North Africa to develop a carrot in the colour of the House of Orange, the Dutch Royal Family. In an attempt to "nationalize" the country's favourite vegetable they began experiments on improving the pale yellow versions by cross breeding them with red varieties. These varieties contain beta carotene to produce orange-coloured roots This was developed to become the dominant species across the world - wonderful, sweet orange. (more on the next page)
The Beginnings
The Carrot originated some 5000 years ago in Middle Asia around Afghanistan, and slowly spread into the Mediterranean area. The first carrots were white, purple, red, yellow/green and black - not orange. Its roots were thin and turnip shaped. Temple drawings from Egypt in 2000 B.C. show a plant which some Egyptologists believe to represent a large carrot. Egyptian papyruses contain information about treatment with carrot and its seeds were found in pharaoh crypts. Carrot seeds have been found in prehistoric Swiss lake dwellings in Ronbenhausen giving clear evidence of human consumption. There is however no evidence of cultivation at this stage, more likely they were used for medicinal purposes. Similar findings appear also in ancient Glastonbury. Neolithic people savoured the roots of the wild carrot for its sweet, succulent flavour.
Carrots were recognised as one of the plants in the garden of the Egyptian king Merodach-Baladan in the eighth century B.C. It was placed amongst the aromatic herbs along with fennel, suggesting that the root was discounted, using only the pleasantly scented flowers and leaves in cooking. Merodach Baladan was the king of Babylon in 702 b.c., a Chaldean and father of Nabopolassar and grandfather of Nebuchadnezzar.
The exact lineage of carrots is difficult to trace as it was often confused by early horticulturalists with the parsnip, its close relative.
Carrots were well known to both the Greeks and Romans. During the first century, the Greeks cultivated a variety of root crops that included leeks, onions, radishes, turnips, and a poorly developed variety of carrots. The unpleasant tasting carrots were rarely eaten but were applied medicinally. Though the Greeks excelled in cultivating many food plants, they never succeeded in developing the carrot into a flavourful vegetable. Even Galen, the 2nd century physician at the court of Marcus Aurelius, stated that the wild carrot is less fit to be eaten than the cultivated variety. They cultivated carrots in their kitchen gardens. These varieties are thought to have been 'forked' with white roots, not unlike the roots of today's wild carrot.
The Romans often ate carrots raw, dressed in oil, salt and vinegar or they cooked them with a sauce made from cumin, salt, old wine and oil. The Romans invading Britain in the second century AD brought leeks, onions, garden carrots, garlic, fennel, mint, thyme, parsley and coriander to name but a few. The Greeks called the carrot "Philtron" and used it as a love medicine to make men more ardent and women more yielding. The Carrot is mentioned by Greek and Latin writers under various names however it was not always distinguished from the Parsnip and Skirret, which are closely allied to it. The name Pastinace was used for both at the time of Pliny the Elder and is based on the verb pastinare - to dig up. Galen in the 2nd century attempted to distinguish the two by giving the wild carrot the name Daucus Pastinaca.
The Greeks had three words each of which could be applied to the properties of the carrot: "Sisaron", first occurring in the writings of Epicharmus, a comic poet (500 B.C.); "Staphylinos", used by Hippocrates (430 B.C.) and "Elaphoboscum", used by Dioscorides (first century AD).
Hippocrates (430BC) The physician and scholar is well known and revered as the father of modern medicine and formalised many herbal cures. Less known is the stress he placed on diet in maintaining health. In medical science, people basically thought the mind and the body was an inseparable thing and the moral view of disease was that diseases were a punishment for a sin. On the other hand Hippocrates saw that diseases occur by natural causes. The assertion of Hippocrates, a doctor from Cos Island in Greece and that of his followers remains and his complete works have commanded universal admiration for a long time as the highest scriptures in the field of medical science. Even today the sublime spirit of Hippocrates serves as pattern for others, so every person seeking for the occupation of doctor is bound to swear the Hypocritical oath at least once.
Hippocrates said "Let food be your medicine and medicine your food". In the following description of cooking methods, his primary concern is to counteract the potentially harmful effects of strongly flavoured foods with the ultimate goal of easing their digestion and passage through the body. He also reveals some of the basic preferences of ancient Greek cuisine.
"The powers of foods severally ought to be diminished or increased in the following way...Take away their power from strong foods by boiling and cooling many times; remove moisture from moist things by grilling and roasting them; soak and moisten dry things, soak and boil salt things, bitter and sharp things mix with sweet, and astringent things mix with oily." For example, foods like cabbage, carrots and turnips were boiled several times, fish or lamb would have been grilled, and an herb like sorrel would have been dressed with oil.
Columella (1st century AD) briefly mentions the carrot. He talks of the field parsnip and a cultivated variety which bears the name and which the Greeks called "staphylinos". He also mentions that the unopened flowers were collected and stored as herbs. Columella, Lucius Junius Moderatus - (b. 1st century AD, Gades, Spain) was a Roman soldier and farmer who wrote a twelve volume treatise on all aspects of Roman farming and extensively on agriculture and kindred subjects in the hope of arousing a love for farming and a simple life. He became in early life a tribune of the legion stationed in Syria, but neither an army career nor the law attracted him, and he took up farming in Italy.
Emperor Caligula (A.D. 37-51) a renowned crazed megalomaniac given to capricious cruelty and harebrained schemes, including attempting to make his horse, Incitatus, a consul. He is purported to have once fed the entire Roman Senate a banquet only of carrot dishes, believing their aphrodisiac powers would get people in the mood.
The Roman emperor Caligula, believing these stories, forced the whole Roman Senate to eat carrots so he could see them "in rut like wild beasts."
Pliny the Elder, (A.D. 23-79) a Roman Historian and scientist refers to a plant grown in Syria resembling a parsnip, called in Italy Gallicam and in Greece Daucon. Pliny said: "There is one kind of wild pastinaca which grows spontaneously; by the Greeks it is known as staphylinos. Another kind is grown either from the root transplanted or else from seed, the ground being dug to a very considerable depth for the purpose. It begins to be fit for eating at the end of the year, but it is still better at the end of two; even then, however, it preserves its strong pungent flavour, which it is found impossible to get rid of." In speaking of the medicinal virtue he adds "the cultivated form has the same as the wild kind, though the latter is more powerful, especially when grown in stony places. Pliny called its root "pasticana gallica" : "food for Gauls", but it was not eaten as a vegetable prior to the Middle Ages.
In Latin, pastinaca refers to the parsnip or the carrot. Related words in that language are pastinare, 'to dig', and pastinum, a two-pronged digging fork or dibble, which probably lent its name to these vegetables because they so often formed forked roots in the ground. In archaic English pastinate, means 'land prepared for planting'. Pliny also said "It has become quite a common proverb that in wine there is truth."
Pliny died in A.D. 79 while observing the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius. In A.D. 77 he wrote the first encyclopaedia, Historia Naturalis, in which he "set forth in detail all the contents of the entire world." . It was composed of 37 books on natural history in all its phases including meteorology, zoology, geography and botany. This work contains a large amount of information found nowhere else. Headless people were among the many marvels it reported. He reported that it involved 2000 volumes but if so, most have been lost. This work had a profound influence on biology throughout the Middle Ages and practically until the end of the 18th Century. In fact it was the basis for the encyclopaedias of Bartholomaeus Anglicus, Konrad of Megenberg and others.
It is Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40-c. 90) catalogued over 600 medicinal plant species during his first century travels as a roman army doctor and who accurately describes the modern carrot. He was from Anazarbus, a small town near Tarsus in what is now south-central Turkey. As a surgeon and physician with the Roman army of Emperor Nero, Dioscorides travelled through Italy, Gaul, Spain, and North Africa, recording the existence and medicinal value of hundreds of plants. He compiled an extensive listing of medicinal herbs and their virtues in about 70 A.D. Originally written in Greek, Dioscorides' herbal was later translated into Latin as De Materia Medica. It remained the standard reference and authority on medicinal plants for over 1500 years. Dioscorides said that the Greeks used carrot leaves against cancerous tumours. He may have learned his medicine by practical experience while in the legions and he most certainly relied on an earlier work by the physician Crateuas. His work describes some 600 plants and their possible medical use.
Dioscorides wrote "Ye root ye thickness of a finger, a span long, sweet-smelling, edible being sodden [boiled]. Of this ye seed being drank...and it is good for ye [painful discharge of urine] in potions, and for ye bitings and strokes of venomous beasts; they say also, that they which take it before hand shall take no wrong of wilde beasts. It co-operates also to conception, and it also being [diuretic], both provoketh [poison], and being applied; but the leaves being beaten small with honey, and laid on, doth cleanse rapidly spreading destructive ulceration of soft tissues." He recommended the seeds of Wild Carrot for the relief of urinary retention, to stimulate menstruation and to "wake up the genital virtue."
Apicius Czclius, (ad 14-37) a wealthy Roman merchant of the reign of Tiberius, whose real name was Marcus Gavio, was the greatest expert of gastronomy in antiquity and devoted his life and own money to the art of cooking. He taught haute cuisine under Augustus and Tiberius and enjoyed the reputation of a wealthy and decadent gourmet.
Stories of his legendary wealth and excesses abounded and he passed in to history as a kind of croesus of the kitchen. Apicius is primarily remembered as a deranged, sadistic and extravagant tyrant. The historian Aelius Lampridius depicts him feasting on flamingo's' brains, the heads of parrots, sow's udder and vegetables seasoned with precious jewels.
His work "De Re Coquinaria" (on cookery) is the most important cooking treatise in Latin. It is divided into 11 Chapters and reveals the evolution of taste in terms of food and lifestyle of the Roman upper class up to the Fall of the Roman Empire. This work is reputedly the oldest cookbook in the world and captures for all time the essence of what was best in the art of Roman cooking. Chapter III of Apicius' book was "The Gardener - Cepuros - Vegetables". This chapter describes meals eaten across civilised Europe during the centuries of Roman domination. They constitute the foundations of western cookery, shorn of food additives and artificial preservatives.
These recipes specifically include carrots:
1. Caroetae Frictea: oenogaro inferuntur - which was fried carrots served with oenogerum.
2. Aliter Caroetas: sale, oleo puro et aceto - Another method: (raw) with salt, pure oil and vinegar.
3. Caroetas Elixatus: concisas in cuminato oleo modico coques et inferes. - Boil the carrots and chop. Cook in cumin sauce with a little oil and serve. 4. Carotae et Pastinacae (Carrots and Parsnips) - carrots and or parsnips fried in a white wine sauce. Presumably the vegetable(s) are fried first, and then served with the sauce. An important note here that carrots of the Roman time were NOT orange in colour. This colour wasn't developed until around the 15th-16th centuries. The correct colours for carrots in Roman times were white or purple. Interestingly several of the Apicius recipes are very poisonous and should not be re-created!! Find out more here. His recipes rarely included any indication of quantities, and ingredients were often enumerated without any direction on how they should be used. This means that his books were probably only used by experienced cooks. One tip in this Book is "How to cook all vegetables the colour of emeralds is to cook them with soda".
Here is what appears to be a carrot, accompanying olives and a little bowl of dip, from a wall painting in a Roman tavern in Ostia (Caseggiato del Termopolio). Compliments of Bill Thayer (Lacus Curtius) the real expert on Roman antiquities. See his site here.
In Roman times more civilized early Mediterranean communities knew about the carrot and supplies were specially imported from Germany for the table of Tiberius. The Romans often ate carrots raw, dressed in oil, salt and vinegar or they cooked them with a sauce made from cumin, salt, old wine and oil. The Romans invading Britain in the second century AD brought leeks, onions, garden carrots, garlic, fennel, mint, thyme, parsley and coriander to name but a few. Roman soups could be quite complicated affairs. Perhaps the oldest surviving soup recipe in the world appears in Apicius' fourth century cook book, based on the notes of a cook who had died three centuries earlier. The soup in question is Pultes Iulianae, or Julian Pottage, and the recipe is as follows: First prepare a wheat gruel by boiling up some pre-soaked wheat with water and a little olive oil, and stir vigorously to thicken. Then pound up half a pound of minced meat in a mortar, with two brains, some pepper, lovage and fennel seed, and add wine and liquamen (fermented fish sauce, a little like modern South East Asian versions). Cook the mixture in a metal vessel, add some stock, and add the result to the wheat gruel. Voila!
The Romans transported and stored their liquids, including their much prized wine and oil (for cooking carrots) in vessels called amphorae. These were large, two-handled pottery jugs often in red brown sandy ware. (The word amphora is Greek for "two ears".) In Roman times the amphora was used as a unit of liquid measure containing 2 urnae, 8 congii, or 48 sextarii (the latter, equivalent to a pint). One amphora thus equalled about 6 gallons or 24 litres. The amphora was also used as a measurement of ship tonnage, equivalent to 80 Roman pounds. Literally millions of pottery amphorae were used in commerce throughout the empire. Vessels and shards of Roman amphorae, commonly found at archaeology sites, thus serve as a ready means of tracing the spread of the wine trade in and beyond the empire (for example, in Britain and Gaul prior to Caesar). Interestingly enough one amphora is called the carrot amphora because of its shape!.
The lower class Romans (plebeians) might have a dinner of porridge made of vegetables, or, when they could afford it, fish, bread, olives, and wine, and meat on occasions.
Apicius was the classical glutton, his colossal banquets eventually drove him to bankruptcy and suicide, but he left behind a cookbook so prized that it has been preserved, in numerous editions, down to the 21st century. The Martial Epigrams quote: "After you spent 60 million sesterces on your stomach, Apicius, 10 million remained. An embarrassment you said, fit only to satisfy mere hunger and thirst. So your last and most expensive meal was poison. Apicius you never were more a glutton than at the end."
The Latin word "sphondyli" has two meanings in the work of Apicius. Sometimes it refers to carrots or artichokes and in others it refers to mussels. The ancients cultivated the species "Heracleum Sphondylium" which is the parsnip a similar plant to carrots.
Apicius wrote two cook books and a special book on sauces and his name is linked to several culinary inventions. Claudius Galen of Pergamum (130-200?) was the most outstanding physician of antiquity after Hippocrates. He served at the court of Marcus Aurelius. Galen's medical writings (comprising nearly a hundred treatises) became the standard source of medical knowledge for centuries. His experimental work was pioneering: he demonstrated the function of the nervous system by cutting animals' spinal cords at different points and observing their resulting paralysis. He was the first to consider the diagnostic value of taking a subject's pulse, and was the first to identify several muscles.
He also studied the heart and urinary system, and proved that the arteries are full of blood. He believed that blood originated in the liver, and sloshed back and forth through the body, passing through the heart, where it was mixed with air, by pores in the septum. His anatomical studies on animals and observations of how the human body functions dominated medical theory and practice for 1400 years. Galen was born of Greek parents in Pergamum, Asia Minor, which was then part of the Roman Empire.
A shrine to the healing god Asclepius was located in Pergamum, and there young Galen observed how the medical techniques of the time were used to treat the ill or wounded. He received his formal medical training in nearby Smyrna and then travelled widely, gaining more medical knowledge. In about 161 he settled in Rome, where he became renowned for his skill as a physician, his animal dissections, and his public lectures.Galen commanded "garden Carrots higher to break the wind, yet experience teacheth they breed it first, and we may thank nature for expelling it. The seeds expel wind indeed and so mend what the root marreth". The name Daucus pastinaca was given to the wild carrot by Galen in attempt to distinguish it from parsnip. Galen said that the wild carrot "is less fit to be eaten than the cultivated variety".

From the Collection Bertarelli, Milan Medicatrina, A Clinic Scene (left).This illustration accompanying Galen’s work shows the surgical procedures described by Galen--on the head, eye, leg, mouth, bladder and genitals--still practiced in the 16th century.
The name Carota for the garden Carrot is found first in the writings of Athenaeus (A.D. 200), and in the book on cookery by Apicius Czclius. It was Galen the Greek physician (second century A.D.) who named the wild carrot Daucus pastinaca (adding the name Daucus) to distinguish the Carrot from the Parsnip, though confusion remained steadfast until botanist Linnaeus set the record straight in the 18th century with his system of plant classification. The scientific name he gave the carrot is Daucus carota, the parsnip Pastinaca sativa.
Although human dissections had fallen into disrepute, he always stressed to his students the importance of practicing on humans and recommended that students practice dissection as often as possible. Galen believed everything in nature has a purpose, and that nature uses a single object for more than one purpose whenever possible. He maintained that "the best doctor is also a philosopher," and so advocated that medical students be well-versed in philosophy, logic, physics, and ethics. To learn more about Galen visit this site. Galen also said "All that's old shall be new again." Galen was physician to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He remains most famous for his codification of Hippocrates's 'four humors' as personality traits (a concept later adopted by Adler in his 'Four Lifestyle Theory'). He was the first to identify the brain-mind relation, the basic working structure of the eye and ear, as well as distinguishing differences between motor and sensory nerves (i.e., so-called affective and effective impulses). Did you know Galen is credited with investigating increased physiological activity amongst lovers? The next time you are near to your lover check to see whether your pulse races and pupils dilate! Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Egypt, the garrulous scholar from 200ad, considered the carrot and the parsnip the same vegetable. The problem of classification was finally resolved by the master classifier, Linnaeus, who put the parsnip in a genus of its own, but refused to recognise the cultivated carrot as specifically distinct from its wild cousin Queen Anne's Lace. Both are known as Daucus Carota. His anthological work, the Deipnosophistae (Banquet of the Sophists), is a collection of anecdotes, after dinner stories, memorabilia and excerpts from ancient writers whose works are otherwise lost.
Athenaeus wrote:1. "A change of meat is often good, and those who are wearied of common food take new pleasure in a novel meal," and 2. " Every investigation which is guided by principles of Nature fixes its ultimate aim entirely on gratifying the stomach".
The carrot was certainly cultivated in the Mediterranean area before the Christian Era, but it was not important as a food until much later. There is a long gap of about 900 years between the writings of the Greeks and Romans of the first to third centuries and the next clear records about the carrot.

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