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Save the carrots!

by Ari Levaux

The carrot, so easily planted, is work to harvest. And then you have a pile of dirty carrots to deal with. Or maybe your CSA gave you an overwhelming sack. But as problems go, too many carrots shouldn't be one. Assuming you have more than you wish to put in your fridge, there are many elegant and delicious ways to put away those carrots for the long haul. Here's a list of ways that people save carrots, including a few methods that people use that I don't endorse, and I think you should know why.

1. Leave them in the ground. It really doesn't get easier than this, provided you're absolutely positive where you planted the carrots, as the telltale foliage that locates the roots will be long gone by winter. Before winter hits, pile on insulators like straw and blankets to keep the cold air off the carrot patch. Even in places where the ground usually freezes, like Montana, well-insulated soil around your carrots will stay soft enough for digging all winter long. And you don't want to keep them in the ground much longer, as they'll get woody when they begin growing again in spring.

2. Dig a hole. If you have a root cellar, it should go without saying that you should store your carrots there. Otherwise, you can improvise one by digging a hole in the ground and burying a container. If you have enough room to bury a railroad boxcar, lucky you. This year I buried a Rubbermaid tub.

Whatever you use, it should be watertight, but have drainage just in case. I trenched around the rim of my Rubbermaid, drilled holes in the bottom, and will keep it covered from above with plywood and tarp, a layer of insulation, like straw or blankets, in the gap between plywood and tub.

Carrots should be trimmed but unwashed. They'll stay crisper that way. Shovel a layer of dirt on the bottom of the tub, then add about 4 inches of carrots. After that, alternate layers of carrots and dirt.

3. Store them in the sandbox. In this popular carrot storage technique, carrots are kept in a box or other container of moist sand, and left in an unheated garage or some other sheltered outside space. I've never been a fan of this technique; I prefer dirt. Make sure and use clean, "food grade" sand; don't just open a sandbag that was hanging around the back of your pickup for two years, like I did.

4. Pickled, with peppers. A shelf packed with jars full of pickled carrots and peppers is a shelf that you will gaze upon proudly, and hungrily. The carrots will absorb the pepper heat, and both carrots and peppers, nibbled as condiments, will add sharp, spicy counter flavors to a rich meal.

You'll need some spicy, fleshy peppers, like jalapeños, along with cider vinegar, salt, sugar and mustard seeds. Heat a brine of 50/50 water and cider vinegar, adding enough sugar to take the edge off of the vinegar. To each clean, sterile quart jar, add a tablespoon of mustard seeds and a teaspoon of salt. Then, pack each jar with carrots and peppers, trimmed and sliced, leaving proper headspace and generally practicing proper canning technique. When the brine reaches a simmer, pour it into the packed jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

5. Dehydrated. If you have a dehydrator, dried carrots are a great option. They shrink way down, and can be reconstituted in soups, stir-fries, sauces, dips and most any other carrot dish.

Peeling carrots before dehydrating will make them a bit sweeter. Another important pre-dehydration process is blanching them first, which will preserve nutrients and fix the bright orange carrot color for perpetuity. Slice the carrots, lengthwise or crosswise, into ¼ inch pieces. Plunge them into enough boiling water that the boil barely pauses, and blanch for two minutes. Then, transfer the carrot slices to cold water for two minutes. Drain, then dehydrate until crispy, but not shriveled away. Store in airtight bags, in the freezer or a cool place.

6. Juice. Freezing carrot juice sounds like a great idea. But there's a consensus among juice freezers that carrot juice doesn't work. It separates, and the consistency changes. There are better things to do with your carrots.

7. Blanched and Frozen. Though carrot juice doesn't freeze well, there are indeed ways to freeze carrots, nearly all of which involve blanching first. The blanching kills enzymes that would otherwise digest the carrots from within, even while frozen. Slice or chop carrots about ¼ inch thick and blanch for two minutes, followed by two minutes in cold water.

8. Grated and frozen. If you're really into carrot cake, this is definitely your method, but freezing your carrots grated opens up other doors as well. No defrosting is necessary; simply add what you wish to whatever carrot-using dish is cooking.

To prepare, grate the carrots, then blanch them for two minutes in boiling water, followed by cold water. Pack in airtight containers, and freeze.

9. Microwaved and frozen. Carrots can be blanched in a microwave, rather than in steam or boiling water. But just because it can be done doesn't mean it should be done. Or that it can't be overdone, or underdone due to the inconsistencies among various microwaves. These inconsistencies make it difficult to give exact directions, and makes the endeavor all the more prone to screw up. And, it's kind of weird.

10. Frozen carrot dish. Cooked carrot meals like carrot soup or carrot mayonnaise are already blanched, in effect, by the cooking process, and are ready for the freezer.

To make carrot mayo, add cooked carrot rounds (steamed or oven roasted) to a blender in which olive oil and garlic have whizzed around. Season with salt, pepper, and perhaps an herb like oregano or thyme, but don't get too crazy. Let it cool to room temperature, and freeze it.