It was cold - really cold - at Bellingham Farmers Market recently. Many local farmers have ended their selling season for the year. The rest have reduced the size of their vending areas and are now tucked inside the sheltered end of the market area at Railroad Avenue and Chestnut Street.
Product assortments are considerably more limited now than during the summer growing season. Some farmers are still selling beautiful squash and pumpkins, and meat eggs, hazelnuts, honey, mushrooms and cheese are readily available.
Frozen berries and jams and jellies are all present and accounted for. Evergreen Station (Ferndale) had herbs and huge and perfect daikon radishes, and Alm Hill Gardens (Bellingham) added fresh beans to the market mix.
Then there was Rabbit Fields Farm (Everson). Farmer Roslyn McNicholl had a stall that looked like a full-blown grocery store produce section. The range of products was astounding for this time of the year. Salad greens, several kinds of kale and chard, multicolored potatoes, red and yellow onions, Jerusalem artichokes, tatsoi, garlic, peppers (including her fabulous applewood-smoked cayenne peppers) - the list of vegetables she had for sale went on and on and on.
By December, the local carrots available are usually so-called "ugly" carrots - the giant ones loved by people who make their own fresh juices. At Rabbit Fields Farm, the carrots were young and tender. I decided those would be the inspiration for today's recipe (see below). I included some smoked cayenne for a little extra kick.
Carrots are a vegetable I use all the time but rarely attend to consciously. Their somewhat sweet flavor makes them popular with nearly everyone, including children.
When you look at the leaves of carrots (carrot greens) you can easily see they are related to parsley, fennel and dill. Wild carrots also grow in our area, but because they look similar to poison hemlock, I recommend that you buy them instead, unless you are expert at identifying different varieties.
In fact, I originally had planned to use the carrot greens in a recipe, but online research showed that while most people can eat carrot tops and enjoy them, for some people carrot greens can be dangerous. I decided to play it safe by using the familiar roots instead.
Nutritionally, carrots are rich in beta carotenes, which give them their orange color. Beta carotenes are used by our bodies to make vitamin A. Farmers who raise chickens sometimes include carrots in their poultry feed to produce more brightly colored egg yolks.
Carrots can be other colors, too, including shades of yellow, red, purple and white. A recent study from the Netherlands showed that even a quarter cup of carrots eaten daily can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Interestingly, the nutrition of carrots is fairly stable in storage after they have been harvested. Kept in a refrigerator in a moisture-proof bag or airtight container, carrots' nutritional freshness can be protected for at least several weeks. For that reason, carrots can be purchased year-round.
Carrots are also one of the few vegetables that are more nutritious when cooked. Cooking breaks down the cellulose in carrots, making the beta carotene more easily absorbed. Even raw, though, you will get plenty of beta carotene into your system.
Carrots have been eaten for millennia. Believed to have originated in the Middle East, they were popular enough to have been written about during ancient Roman and Greek civilizations. Domesticated varieties were brought to North America by some of the earliest colonists.
Carrots are easy to grow in your home garden. They like our cool weather and sandy soil, loosened deeply so the roots can push through it easily. There are an abundance of varieties available with different lengths, colors and shapes. Carrots mature fairly quickly in one to two months, so if you plant new seeds every couple of weeks you can have a fresh supply of carrots ripening throughout most of the summer and well into the fall.
In cooking, carrots play well with almost any other ingredient and a multitude of herbs and spices. They can be cooked in every way imaginable, though simple steaming seems to produce the best combination of maximum flavor and nutrition. Their delicate sweetness makes them delicious in both savory dishes (such as carrot curries) and in sweet dishes (such as carrot cake).
Today's recipe is fast and simple. The bright, cheerful color helps makes carrot chips a striking holiday appetizer. The flavor is sweet and robust enough to serve with or without a dip. I used thyme for my chips, but you could also use mint, rosemary or any other local herb you enjoy.
If you're looking for a way to incorporate local foods into your holiday meals, check out my blog for information about Whatcom Locavore holiday menus, complete with recipes, shopping lists and a recommended preparation schedule. Beef, salmon and vegetarian versions are offered.
Also, for gift ideas, check out the new Whatcom Locavore T-shirts, hoodies, and even onesies for babies. You'll find complete information at my blog: whatcomlocavore.com.
1 bunch of carrots (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
3 inches smoked cayenne pepper (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
1 tablespoon hazelnut oil (Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (Evergreen Station, Ferndale)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cut off the carrot tops and any fine root endings. Scrub well.
Cut the carrots lengthwise into slices about 1/4 inch thick.
Finely mince the smoked cayenne pepper or chop in a coffee grinder. If you want your carrot chips to be spicier, instead of just a little smoky, you can use more smoked pepper.
In a bowl, toss the carrots with the hazelnut oil, thyme leaves and the smoked pepper.
Spread carrots in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet or a baking sheet covered with parchment. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until carrots are browned around the edges.
Let cool before serving.
1 cup per serving.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.