Last year I ended up with quite a few carrots from the garden. I can’t remember what variety they were, but there were even a couple that started to bloom. Domestic carrots are related to the wildflower Queen Anne’s Lace, so the flowers are nearly identical.
Because we just had too many carrots to eat fresh from the garden I looked into ways I could preserve them. The 2 methods I chose to try were canning and root cellaring. This summer I might try pickling a few jars, or carrot jam preserves. I’ve heard carrot preserves can turn out pretty good. We’ll see how many carrots we get this year.
Because carrots are a low-acid food they have to be canned in a pressure canner. An open bath canner just can’t get to high enough temperatures to kill off all the microbes. The preferred method for canning is the hot pack method, according to “Putting Food By” (Greene, Hertzberg, Vaughan, 5th ed.). This essentially means you blanch the carrots first in boiling water, then pack them into jars.
My pressure canner can only handle pint jars, not quarts. I purposely wanted this smaller size because I can’t see a big use for quart-sized jars of food. It’s just me and my son, so we don’t use a lot of food in one meal. If I had a family of 4 or more I could definitely see the benefit of quart jars, though.
So, I thoroughly washed all the carrots and cut off tops and root tips and peeled them. I mostly stuck with processing the larger carrots because I didn’t want to mess with scraping the little ones. Although I did experiment with scarping a few of the little ones; you just hold your knife at about 90 degrees to the carrot surface and scrape away. This removes the top millimeter or so of skin. This takes off less material than peeling with a peeler.
I then cut them into moderate sized chunks. And into the boiling water they went for a couple minutes.
Draining was easiest with a colander over a bowl. This way you can use the cooking water to pack into your jars if you’d like.
The jars, lids and rings were sterilized in boiling water beforehand. They were set out on the table, awaiting their payload. “Putting Food By” recommends adding 1/2 tsp. of salt to each jar. I don’t know if it matters if the salt goes in first or last, but I put mine in before the carrots.
Making sure the rims of the jars were clean the lids and rings were put on. The rings should not be tight, just as in open-bath canning. The expanding air from within the jar needs to safely escape.
One big way open-bath canning differs from pressure canning is the amount of water that’s used in the canner. I’ve canned several things with the open-bath method (pickles and tomatoes), so I was surprised to see that the pressure canner only has enough water to go up the jars a couple inches (the manual advises no more than half full of water). In open-bath canning the jars are completely covered with water and the escaping air slowly bubbles out. Here’s an image from the National Center for Home Food Preservation:
During the canning of the second batch of carrots I did have a little mishap. One of the jars broke in the canner! Not a huge mess, but just a disappointment that I lost a jar and all the contents. All the spilled carrots had to go right into the trash – no sense risking ingesting glass shards (that goes for pets, too — my dogs would’ve loved those cooked carrots).
I must say that the taste of home made canned carrots is nothing like the commercial kind! Sure, the texture is a bit soft from cooking in the canner for half an hour, but the fresh summer flavor is pretty much all there. We really don’t eat a whole lot of canned carrots over the winter, so 2 batches of 12 jars is more than enough. It’s a tasty source of beta carotene during the winter!
Root Cellaring Carrots
My next experiment was with setting up a small “root cellar” for a few garden carrots. We don’t have a real root cellar, but rather a wall of rustic closets along an exterior basement wall. The best place to try the root cellaring experiment.
In a large rubbermaid-type container I first laid down a good 3-4 inches of pine shavings. This I dampened just a wee bit with a sprinkling of water. Then I laid in about 20 of the best carrots from the garden, unwashed. The books say to leave about 1/2 inch of the green tops as well as most of the root “tails”. Another layer of moistened wood shavings were put on, then another layer of carrots, then a generous helping of more moist shavings.
The container is not supposed to be completely sealed off, so I took a plastic trash bag and laid it loosely down over the container. The whole things went into the bottom of the basement closet to sit and wait.
Frankly, I forgot about them until about March. When I looked in they were sprouting up quite nicely! Not really what I expected, but it showed the conditions in the box were favorable to get the carrots growing again. So maybe it was a little TOO warm?
Pawing around in the box I could see that, even though many of them were sprouting, there were quite a few that were pretty shriveled. Not really edible unless you were really desperate. I left all the carrots in and pushed it back into the closet for another couple months.
So, last week I finally brought the box back out and decided to unload the whole thing and assess the condition of the remaining carrots. This is what I found:
- 30% were shriveled up
- 30% were more or less completely rotted
- 20% were partially rotted, with some salvagable parts
- 20% were visually ok and looked edible
Here’s a sampling of what I found (after 7 months in storage). The bunch on the left were the entirety of what survived in good, seemingly edible condition. The bunch on the right are a few of the shriveled ones. I didn’t include any rotted ones in the picture as they were completely turned to mush! The green bin/box on the left is the storage container for the carrots.
Then, in fairness, I did a taste test on the good carrots. I peeled and diced them and boiled them for a few minutes until barely softened (I like my veggies al dante). Then a bit of butter and salt. Definitely not the same as fresh from the garden – but definitely edible. Actually, their flavor was probably more in line with what you get from the grocery store on a good day.
I’m not sure if there’s any data out there on the nutritional content of root cellared vegetables, but I’m sure they lost a bit of their vitamins along the way. But, if all I had to eat over the winter was starchy rice, beans, bread, and potatoes, I’d probably rejoice in having some semi-fresh carrots in late winter.
I don’t have a whole lot to say about drying carrots, other than I tried to dry some several years ago and was completely disappointed. Drying carrots in a regular food dehydrator produces a nugget or disk of dried carrot that does not reconstitute well. It turns out pretty tough and chewy, in my opinion.
If anyone out there has had a different experience with dehydrating their own carrots please let me know. Maybe I’m just doing it wrong. Maybe I need to try different varieties. Maybe the sugar to starch content makes a big difference. I’ll leave those experiments to another day.
In my opinion I definitely preferred the canning method for flavor. Some people might not like the soft texture, but I really didn’t mind. You just have to handle them a little more gently than fresh carrots so they don’t get completely mushy in your serving dish. This was a fun experiment and I’ll definitely keep doing the canning method to preserve a few of the best carrots from the home garden.