The Carrot Question
While we’re waiting for fresh local fruits — and, in some regions, that might take a while, after this winter — what do we use? Citrus? Rhubarb? Dried figs? Fruits imported from some country far away to the south?
There’s always the carrot. In fact, some years back a United Nations agency declared that the carrot was a fruit in culinary, if not botanical, terms. And so it is, or can be. Its sweet flesh has been used for confections in a lot of places, from India with its carrot halwas to the U.S., where carrot cake is a favorite health food when we’re kidding ourselves about calories.
In 17th-century England, they made something they called carrot pudding. At the time, the word pudding could mean a lot of things, usually boiled masses of flour and suet with some raisins added to make it a big treat.
Carrot pudding is far more attractive for today’s tastes, but it’s a little hard to describe. It looks like a pie, only with a slightly crunchy topping instead of crust. It cuts like cake, except that there’s a thin layer of custard on the bottom. The texture is a cross between bread pudding and a moist cookie — maybe a certain kind of brownie, but not mushy. The flavor? Carrots and custard, with little explosions of fresh nutmeg from time to time.
People are really impressed by it. It would be a fine surprise to bring to a picnic, whenever picnic season returns where you live.
This recipe comes from “Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets” (1699), by the English gardening writer John Evelyn. Obviously, it comes from the appendix of non-sallet (non-salad) dishes. Those big Japanese panko bread crumbs give a lighter texture.
Pudding of Carrot
- Butter a pie tin with a little of the melted butter.
- Mix the grated carrots with the crumbs, milk, yolks, whites, sugar and the rest of the butter.
- Stir in the salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and ginger and transfer the batter to the pie tin. Bake at 350 F about 1 hour. (The pudding will begin to float on the butter after about 20 minutes, and some butter may overflow, so put aluminum foil under the pan).
- Remove when the surface is starting to brown around the edges.
- Allow to cool 15 minutes before serving.
Zester Daily contributor Charles Perry is a former rock ‘n’ roll journalist turned food historian who worked for the Los Angeles Times’ award-winning Food section, where he twice was a finalist for the James Beard award.
Photo: Carrot pudding. Credit: Charles Perry.