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Carrots are a versatile vegetable, and they're the focus of a special contest at the 2016 Elkhart County 4-H Fair

Each year the National Garden Bureau selects a vegetable to highlight; last year it was the sweet pepper. I was late getting out the publicity on the contest, so this year I know the vegetable ahead of time and am starting early. This year, is the year of the carrot.

One of the special contests in the Home & Family Arts building at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair will be to prepare a recipe with carrots, with the exception of carrot cake; the recipe that you prepare and submit should be all about carrots and be made with lots of them. In other words, when the recipe is tasted it should scream carrots.

A root vegetable, carrots have feathery green tops. The most commonly cultivated varieties are deep orange in color and average about 7 to 8 inches long and 3/4 inch in diameter. As carrots continue to grow and get larger they become woody and lose some of their sweetness. Second to beets, carrots have the highest sugar content of any vegetable. They are delicious raw, whole in sticks or grated in salads.

Carrot sticks are a nutritious addition to any meal or snack. When you are creating a vegetable tray or basket, mix all of the vegetables together and make sure to add lots of carrots for color as well as nutrition. Bagged small carrots are an easy snack, and sometimes cutting them length-wise in half makes them easier to eat.

Steamed and buttered carrots or glazed carrots are common side dishes. Carrots may be creamed or pickled, added to stews, baked in a pudding and made into or added to soup. Because of their natural sweetness, they are an essential ingredient in a good basic stock.

When selecting carrots, choose small slender carrots that are rigid and not rubbery. If tops are attached, they should be fresh-looking and bright green. Avoid carrots that are split, pale or deeply discolored around the stem, which indicates age. Unless you plan to use the tops for garnish or in soups, don’t buy carrots with tops.

Store fresh carrots in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper. They will stay fresh for several weeks but will gradually lose sweetness and rigidity. A common question is, “to peel or not to peel.” Most of the time, use a vegetable brush, scrape them with a paring knife or use a peeler.

However you choose to make your carrot dish, be sure to enter it in the Year of the Carrot contest. Bring your entry to the Home & Family Arts Building for check-in at 4:30 p.m. July 23. Open judging begins at 5 p.m. and is sponsored by Cross-Hart Farm in Elkhart. Complete contest rules will be available in the 2016 Open Class Home & Family Arts Department booklet.

For more nutrition and healthy eating tips from Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross, subscribe to the Food & Nutrition email newsletter.


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