(I originally posted this on my Culinate blog.)
“What do you think this is? A carrot or a beet?”
I was eating dinner recently at the bar of a nice restaurant with my Uncle Joe and my mother. The patrons next to us were prodding their side veggies—a beautiful medley of young carrots in a rainbow of colors—with a fork.
“Couldn’t be a carrot—too purple. Definitely a beet.”
Now, I know it’s rude to eavesdrop on and then interrupt people while they’re dining, but I had to set the record straight: the plate in front of the woman to my right was decidedly beet-free.
I leaned over. “It’s not a beet,” I said.
“What is it?” one of the women asked.
“It’s a carrot.”
I am no food scientist but I know a carrot when I see one. Heck, I can spot a carrot when it’s nothing more than green leaves poking out of the earth or wild roadside Queen Anne’s Lace. Carrots, much like garbage cans or telephone poles, are pretty much universally recognizable, especially when they are out of the ground, cleaned, stemmed, steamed and lying whole next to a roasted chicken thigh.
“How can you tell?”
“It’s definitely a carrot. It looks like a Purple Haze. I grew them once,” I said.
“Really? How did you get them to be purple?”
I paused for a second. I had to be careful. I grew up in New York City, where trees grow only in designated holes in the sidewalks and produce ships in from California. In fact, I had a fear of plants (especially tall grasses and skunk cabbages—eww) until I was far too old to admit here. Believe me when I say that my green thumb is a relatively new development. I have no right whatsoever to be a know-it-all about this sort of thing.
But still. There are only so many ways to answer this woman’s question.
“I put the seeds in the ground,” I told her. “And they grew.”