Carrot Jam

I’ve been looking for creative ways to preserve the carrots from my garden, since there are only so many carrot-based dishes that I can eat in a row. Yes, I could freeze some of them, but my freezer is getting awfully full of soups and sauces and broths (this happens every autumn), so something shelf-stable is what the doctor ordered. I also wanted a recipe that disguised the unusual shapes of my homegrown carrots (which I combined with store-bought orange ones for a bit of visual interest), since I know that ugly food tends to be eaten less enthusiastically than pretty food, even if it tastes identical.

So I browsed through my cookbooks and found a recipe for Carrot Jam on page 206 of Preserving by Pat Crocker (2011). I had never heard of carrot jam before, but there’s a similar recipe for Carrot Orange Marmalade on page 142 of Prizewinning Preserves by Yvonne Tremblay (2001), which apparently earned a red ribbon for best marmalade at the 2000 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. I guess it can’t be that unheard of. However, the Prizewinning Preserves marmalade was missing the intriguing spices of Preserving‘s carrot jam, which cinched my decision to make the latter recipe.

Preserving suggests letting the jars sit for a few weeks before opening for best flavour, but the cooking jam smelled so darned good that I opened up my first jar the very next day. I am so glad that I did. I baked up a quick batch of Dad’s Biscuits upon which to spread the jam, and then I was in seventh heaven. If these preserves get even better with age, I can’t imagine how delicious they will be. Suggested uses for this jam are as follows (Preserves, page 207):

Carrot jam can be used as any other fruit jam, but I particularly like it on quick bread nut loaves and with savoury meat pies or wraps. Use it as a glaze for cooked vegetables: toss grilled or steamed vegetables in up to 1 cup (250mL) of the jam while hot, just before serving. This is also a flavourful topping for fresh yogurt, or you can add a couple of tablespoons (25mL) to a Vinaigrette Dressing or Salsa Verde.

I can’t wait to try carrot jam in all of these ways! I think it would also make a lovely glaze for roast pork or chicken. I love this recipe so much that I think I will grow carrots again next year specifically to make them into this jam. Maybe I’ll even grow those red and/or purple heirloom carrots just so that the jam is even more visually interesting.

Carrots

I love both cooking with and eating carrots, so I’ve been planting them in my garden for a couple of years. I haven’t had great success, though. Last year, one of my carrots looked like this:

(That’s a dime for size reference.)

So when I planted my carrots this year, I didn’t have any great expectations. Instead of growing them from seeds like I’d tried in previous years, I bought pre-started seedlings from Laporte Gardens. I hoped I’d get a few decent-sized carrots and probably some finger-sized ones as well. Little did I know that I was growing MONSTERS.


Thing 1 helping me harvest the carrots.

I left lots of space between each planted seedling (so I never had to thin them), made sure they got lots of water (not a problem this year) and that they weren’t being eaten alive by pests or crowded out by weeds. I also fertilized the entire garden with sheep manure compost early in the spring. And that was all I did. I’d learned the hard way that you really just have to leave root vegetables alone for as long as possible so that they develop fully. Um… Mission accomplished, I guess?

(Yes, I know now that I probably should have re-buried the carrots as they began to poke out of the ground so they didn’t discolor, but I didn’t know that back when it mattered. My carrots have never before grown so large.)

So yeah, that’s Thing 1 holding up one of the carrots/carrot clusters that she pulled up for me. It’s almost as big as her head.

Instead of the roots growing long and straight, they looped back upon themselves multiple times, creating gnarled, mutant bunches. Even in the spots where there was only one top, the roots looked like this.

These are creampak carrots, by the way. They’re supposed to be yellow instead of the more common orange.

All in all, my small planting of carrots yielded a root harvest that overfills a 11″ x 15″ x 7¾” IKEA GLES box.

Washed and untangled, the carrots looked more like the vegetables I’m used to. The photo above is of only one of the root balls. I kept giggling as I washed and separated, since it all seemed so absurd to me. This is honestly the funniest plant I have ever grown… And I have grown some weird-looking plants.

Thing 1 washed and cut up some of the smaller bits, then harvested a few cherry tomatoes from the garden to make her own carrot and tomato salad. I was very proud of her for taking the initiative to make a dish out of the food she’d helped harvest. She insisted that I photograph her creation and put it on “the blog”.

I included part of the harvest in yesterday’s dinner, which was steamed carrots, whipped potatoes (which are Prince of Orange potatoes and almost the same colour as the Creampak carrots when cooked), and maple & cinnamon sausages. After spending the afternoon in the garden, the whole family cleaned their plates.

Cream of Carrot Soup Recipe

I took a cooking class back in high school. It wasn’t Home Economics or Family Studies; it was a week-long course at the local college that was meant to teach us the most basic techniques of the professional chef. It was most likely offered in the hopes that the course would catch the attention of at least a few of us, and that we would return after graduation for the culinary program. We learned how to make fresh pasta, French vanilla ice cream, chocolate truffles… I have very fond memories of that class, and not just because I got to spend a week away from home.

One of the things the chef was insistent about was that we learn how to use knives properly. Well, one knife. The chef worked almost exclusively with what seemed to me to be an intimidatingly huge chef’s knife. He insisted that we learn the proper techniques of handling this knife (which I totally approve of), and then we spent the rest of one day of a five-day program chopping different kinds of vegetables. I know how important knife work is to a chef, but when the majority of a group of sixteen-year-olds aren’t likely to ever step into another professional kitchen, chopping veggies all day may not be the best way to hold their attention. However, by the end of the course I did learn to be slightly less afraid of the large knife. (Until then, I usually used a paring knife at home.)

At the end of the knife-work day, the dish that we were expected to prepare the chef’s version of cream of carrot soup. I really love the recipe, so I kept my copy and have been tweaking it ever since. So long as you skip the optional ingredients, my version is dairy-free, tree-nut and peanut free, gluten-free, and can be made vegetarian/vegan if vegetable stock is used instead of chicken stock. It’s also extremely healthy! It’s also slightly sweet, and not from adding sugar but from sweating the vegetables before boiling them — perfect for serving to picky eaters.

I make my cream of carrot soup in large quantities because it freezes really well, but if you prefer your soup fresh, I’d recommend halving or quartering the recipe. As written, it can be made using a 2.27kg (5lb) bag of carrots, which results in about 1.5kg after peeling and slicing. I like using Naturally Imperfect carrots, which are cheaper because they’re not visually perfect, but they taste just as good. Honestly, it’s all going through the blender anyway.

Cream of Carrot Soup
Yields about 7 litres
All weights indicated are measured after peeling and chopping.

Peel and dice (or slice in a food processor):
1.5kg carrots
Peel and dice:
350g yellow onions
Into a deep, heavy-bottomed stock pot pour:
1 cup olive oil
Heat the oil slowly on medium-low heat. Add the carrots and onions to the oil. Sweat the vegetables until the onions are translucent and the carrots are about half-cooked. Stir often. Do not let the vegetables brown.
Peel and dice:
600g potatoes (white- or yellow-fleshed)
Add the potatoes to the pot, and then add:
4.5L reduced-sodium chicken broth*
Bring contents of pot to a boil. Simmer until all vegetables are tender.
Puree the soup in batches using a blender or food processor. Exercise extra caution when pureeing as the soup will be hot! Fill the jar/bowl at most 2/3 full, as the soup will fly up and may dislodge the lid of the blender/food processor. As an extra precaution, you may drape a dish towel over the top of the machine and hold the lid down gently with one hand. (Do not press down too forcefully or the center section of a blender may fall into the jar — especially if the blender has a flexible lid.)
Once all of the soup has been pureed, return it to the stock pot. Gently bring the soup back to a simmer.
Season to taste with:
salt
white pepper
Serve in a bowl or soup dish.
Optionally, at serving time finish each bowl with:
2 Tbsp hot cream or 1 Tbsp cold sour cream
Garnish each bowl with:
1 sprig of parsley or 1 small basil leaf

*Chicken broth may be replaced an equal amount of vegetable broth, or homemade chicken broth, or a mix of 2.25L water and 2.25L stock made from chicken bouillon.