Without a carrot in the world, until this bunch shows up


April 26, 1995|By ROB KASPER

A couple of toughs surprised me the other day in the garden.

BThey were carrots left over from last year's gardening efforts. My kid, then 9 years old, had sprinkled some seeds in a corner of the garden. The seeds had not done much last summer, and they were virtually forgotten until a few days ago when I was poking around in the dusts of April.

When I first stood over the swaying green tops of the carrots, I thought they were a variation of my biggest crop, weeds. Then I thought they might have been survivors of our long-lost dill crop.

But the green tops didn't smell like dill. They didn't taste like dill, either. That is one of the joys of fooling around in your garden. When you find something that looks promising, all it takes it a little washing from the hose, and you have an immediate, on-premise dining opportunity.

This particular tasting was not thrilling. The mysterious green tops didn't taste like weeds, but they did not taste much better. The mystery ended when I looked down at the ground and saw the bottoms that these tops had been attached to. I had almost stubbed my toe on the carrots.

It was a good thing I had not bumped up against these big, orange orbs. If I had, I might be limping. These were not svelte carrots, the tall, thin types that spend their formative months being fussed over in perfect carrot-growing environments. These were outlaw carrots. They looked like fireplugs. Short, squat. Thick.

They weren't pretty, but I was proud of them. I was also determined that these carrots were going to appear on my family's table. I took them home, where they received a mixed reception. "Awesome," said the kid who had planted the seeds. At my urging, the kid put the fattest carrot on a ruler, it measured 1 1/2 inches wide, and 3 inches long. It was a "porker."

I knew the fact that the kid had planted the carrots was no guarantee that he would actually eat them. I am no longer one of those adults who believe that if you get the child involved in the preparation of a vegetable, the kid will end up eating the vegetable.

I used to believe that -- before I had children. Now I believe that getting kids to eat anything, other than cookies, is pretty much a roll of the dice. You serve the dishes, you take your chances.

The kid who planted the carrots, for instance, also helps me grow tomatoes. He helps me plant them. He helps me water them. He helps me pick them. When we get the tomatoes home, however, he won't go near them. The kid doesn't like the taste of tomatoes. No amount of cajoling, or moaning with pleasure as I feast on the sweet tomatoes can deter the kid from his no-tomato lifestyle. (His big brother, who rarely sets foot in the garden, loves tomatoes.)

I console myself with the thought that maybe some day this will change. That maybe later in life, the younger boy will discover the pleasure of tomatoes, the happy way I discovered, on my 30th birthday, the pleasure of yeasty champagne. In the interim, however, it is clear to me that just because a kid grows something, or helps you slice it, does not mean he will put it in his mouth.

As for the tough carrots, I figured they had a 50-50 chance of getting eaten. I cut them into carrot sticks. When the kids were younger, I could sometimes humor them into eating carrots by pretending that we were gangsters and the carrot sticks were cigars. On nights that Mom was away, the guys and I would sit around the supper table with carrots stubs dangling from our lips. I guess you could call it "gangster nutrition."

Those days are long gone. Now when I am pushing raw vegetables, I rely on that friend of parents everywhere, ranch salad dressing, or as the kids call it, "dip." I believe that if you dip it, they will eat it -- most of the time.

As I sliced these stubby carrots, I could see they needed help. They were so old that they had more growth rings than most trees. They were also very chewy.

The kid who had said they looked "awesome" reported that they "tasted weird," no matter how much dip they were dragged through.

I had to agree. The flavor of these carrots reminded me of a taste of my youth -- the old No. 2 pencils I used to chew during school math tests.

The ugly carrots, our first garden crop of the season, were not a culinary success.

But that doesn't mean the kid and I won't plant more. In gardening and in my kid-feeding, I believe in a brighter tomorrow.

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