Sowing a rainbow

Wednesday Jan 30 2019

These last few years, colourful carrots have been making a comeback. Suddenly, we’re reminded that carrots have long come in a variety of colours from yellow and white to purple and red. William of Orange (Willem Hendrik, 1650-1702) is often blamed for popularizing the orange carrot, though, the genetic mutation occurred years before Dutch farmers began mass-growing a carrot that so happened to match the colour we now associate with the Netherlands. *

Indeed, purple and yellow carrot roots (first domesticated in Central Asia) pre-date the orange ones, as does a colourful array of vegetable varieties – coming long before the advice of today’s nutritionists to eat “a rainbow on your dinner plate”. 

It also turns out that our preference for specific vegetable colours has often been a question of food trends and commercialization rather than nutrition. Pink, red and purple veggies have come in and out of fashion more than once in our agricultural history. As we (re) sow our gardens with a palette of pink and red and shades of purple, we’re recalling thousands of years of cultivation that produced these colourful varieties . . . and the colourful stories that come with them.

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Looking to plant some more pink? Try Pink Plume celery or Whippersnapper cherry tomato.

Want to focus on purple? There are eggplants in many shades and streaks of purple (Black Beauty, Listada di Gandia and Long Purple); some cole crops that are arguably more purple than red (Mammoth Red Rock and Red Express cabbages, and Red Bull or Falstaff Brussels sprouts); purple beans that stand out on a trellis (Purple Peacock and Mennonite Purple Stripe); root crops that peak their purple tops out of the ground (Purple Plum radish and Purple Top White Globe turnip); purple “greens” (Osaka Purple and Ruby Streaks mustards, as well as Rainbow Tat Soi); plus tomatoes and peppers of various purple hues (Cherokee Purple, Czech Black, Violet Sparkle); and a bunching onion with purple shanks (Lilia)

And what of red? Beets boast many red tones (from Detroit Dark Red to Bull’s Blood). There are “red” onions (Red Wethersfield and Rossa di Milano), and, of course, “red” sweet and hot peppers (most of ‘em!), red radishes (Cherry Belle, French Breakfast, and German Giant), and red lettuces (Ruby Red, Rouge d’Hiver, etc.).

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*For more on the history of carrots, see the World Carrot Museum: http://www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/history.html

 

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