Where Our Food Comes From…….
Sticky Roast Chantenay Carrot Medley with Pomegranate
Welcome to a new series of posts called “Where Our Food Comes From”……..over the last few months I have been lucky enough to visit numerous factories, farms, orchards and food events where the focus has been all about home-grown British (and European) food and ingredients. Today’s post is all about a very British carrot with a French name – the Chantenay carrot. Just over four weeks ago I visited the “hub” of the British Chantenay carrot industry at Freshgro in Nottinghamshire; Freshgro, which is the trade name for Fresh Growers Ltd, is a co-operative formed in June 1998 by ten farmers.
These ten farmers then sought about bringing back Chantenay carrots to the UK and are now the world’s leading supplier, supplying over 90% of the UK Chantenay market. Freshgro has a farming base of over 20 000 acres where they grow and market both conventional and organic vegetables; they also produces piccolo parsnips, asparagus and other root crops and there are nearly 2 acres of factory space which serves all the country’s retailers, which is where I visited a few weeks ago. The two Martins, Martin Evans, the CEO of Freshgro and Martin Brittain, the technical director, welcomed me to the factory as well as taking me out onto some nearby carrot fields.
I have always loved Chanteany carrots – they are pretty little carrots that have a sublime sweet taste as well as being crunchy with a crisp texture, so it was a fascinating day to seeing them being freshly harvested as well as visiting where they are sorted, washed and packed for the retail market. Most people know the orange Chantenay carrots, we always have them on the Christmas table, but, Freshgro are also growing and marketing the “heirloom” purple and white varieties now, which I also saw being harvested and packed for market. Purple carrots, for those of you in the know, are the original carrots, along with white and yellow ones, and it wasn’t until the 17th century that the more well-known modern-day orange carrot came onto existence.
There is little difference in the taste between the orange, purple and white carrots, although when cut, the purple carrots always have a different colour and pattern inside them, which makes them such a pretty vegetable for salads and crudités. And, the white carrots look very similar to parsnips……but taste like carrot of course! Having seen some of the carrots being harvested, I was then treated to a “carroty” taste session before visiting the factory. Some of the accompaniments that were offered with freshly sliced Chantenay carrots were cheese, fruit, crackers and creamy dips, which I enjoyed, as well as Nutella,which I wasn’t so sure about, but I have to say it did work, regardless of my dislike for Nutella.
The whole washing, sorting and packing procedure at Freshgro was seamless……and I was pleased to see that there is very little “processing” before the carrots are sent out to various farm shops, greengrocers and all of the major UK supermarkets. In a nutshell, the carrots are dug up, sent to the factory where they are washed, sorted into colour, type, grade and sizes, before being packed and dispatched. Most of the carrots are sent out whole, but some are peeled, diced, sliced and chopped for supermarkets and the food industry. It was wonderful to see something that had been harvested in the morning making its way to the stores and ultimately our table so soon after being dug up.
In an age of mass consumerism, we DO need factory sites to sort and pack our food, and it was refreshing to see a large factory complex working almost like a small farm but on a larger scale, with bigger machines, obviously. There were also boxes of loose carrots being sent to greengrocers and farm shops, in their natural state with a bit of honest Nottinghamshire dirt on them! On leaving I was given a large bag of assorted Chantenay carrots, as well as some Piccolo Parsnips; the recipe for my parsnips will follow nearer the festive season, but for now, I’d like to share a new recipe I created in homage to the not so humble carrot – Sticky Roast Chantenay Carrot Medley with Pomegranate Molasses.
The recipe for this vibrant carrot dish shared below, and it absolutely gorgeous, with a sticky, sweet and sour taste and a crunchy texture, it would make the ideal accompaniment of any special family meal, Thanksgiving or for Christmas and the New Year. I have used all the different colours of Chantenay carrots in this recipe, but you can just used one colour of course, although it seems a shame not to try to get hold of the purple and white ones, which are available in most major supermarkets now, as well as independent shops and retailers. This recipe is also a great idea for a veggie main course – serve with crusty bread and maybe a glass of chilled white wine.
I hope you have enjoyed the first in my series of “Where Our Food Comes From”……please pop back soon to read all about my trips to a Rapeseed Farm, an Apple Orchard and Cider/Vinegar Distillery, an Organic Flour Mill and Farm, a French Apple Orchard as well as my Food Safari in Suffolk at the Aldeburgh Food Festival…….and oh yes, there’s more foodie tales from Singapore, Italy, the South of France and Northern Island……and a mini cruise too. See you soon, Karen
Disclaimer: With thanks to Freshgro and Sophie for inviting me to the factory and farm. I was not paid to write this post and all views and opinions are my own.
As the name suggests, the Chantenay carrot originated from the Chantenay region of France. Early references to the Chantenay carrot can be found back in the mid 1800′s where it was used in medicine.
As food production became more organised after the war there was a rise in the popularity of Chantenay carrots. This peaked in the 60′s but the Chantenay fell out of favour as the market place developed and food production became increasingly mechanised.
Production of Chantenay for the fresh market almost ceased in the 1970′s although Chantenay remained a favourite with the canned carrot market due to their sweetness and size.
The recent revival has been brought about with a complete product overhaul which looked at varieties, size and production techniques.
The Chantenay carrot is a natural product that can be tricky to grow but it is its very ‘naturalness’ which gives it its flavour and results in carrots that taste ‘as carrots used to taste