There are some things in life that I have always known to be true and have never taken the time to question. The Earth is round. My name is Jessica. Grass is green, the sky is (usually) blue and carrots are orange. Little did I know that my bubble would be burst and my trust betrayed by a town in the northern outskirts of the province of Malaga.
Cuevas Bajas is the definition of a typical Spanish pueblito (small town). There is an olive oil factory, a town plaza fully equipped with a centuries old Catholic Church and a bar with a tiny dance floor that passes as a sad excuse for a nightclub. With a population of approximately 1,600 people, there isn’t much to do or see in Cuevas Bajas, but what this town does have is a little secret that keeps people intrigued year after year: the purple carrots, known in Spanish as “la zanahoria morá.”
The people of Cuevas Baja are proud to be one of the world’s few producers of purple carrots. Every year, they host a festival, “La Fiesta de la Zanahoria Morá,” to honor their local celebrity. This past weekend I had the opportunity to join in on the ninth annual celebration.
A long white tent was propped up in one of the town’s main roads and was lined with booths manned by local vendors selling their best products. Loud music filled the tent as a group of women dolled up in traditional flamenco dresses sang a song praising “la zanahoria morá.” There were gorgeous crafts hand-painted in vibrant colors. There was a wide variety of gourmet cheeses, coffee liquor, dessert pastries and several types of meat. Despite the other attractions, the main star of the event was of course, the purple carrot, and it was featured at every single booth.
For newcomers like me and longtime fans of “la zanahoria morá,” the highlight of the day may have been the opportunity to enjoy unlimited free servings of one of Cuevas Bajas’ most popular dishes: migas topped with purple carrots. For those of you unfamiliar with migas, it is a dish made with small pieces of stale bread, mixed with olive oil, fresh garlic, chorizo sausage and herbs and seasonings. It is then cooked in special shallow pan over a wood-burning fire. These pans tend to be large in general, but at this festival it was enormous. It took three people using farmers’ rakes and hoes to cook the migas for the hungry crowd awaiting their helping.
When I finally got my serving, I was surprised to see that purple carrots are actually not purple on the inside, but instead a yellowish color. If I had eaten the dish with my eyes closed, I would not have noticed the difference between the purple carrots and the orange ones that I’m accustomed to. For the aficionados there is a difference in taste, but perhaps my palette is just not sophisticated enough to detect it.
If you’re still in shock that purple carrots exist and wondering what kind of Frankenstein-esque experiments are going on in Cuevas Bajas, do not fret. These purple carrots are all natural and native vegetation to the area. The real mutants are the orange carrots we normally buy from the local supermarket.
The world’s first carrots were purple and it remained this way for many centuries. Varieties of white and yellow carrots occasionally grew in the wild, but farmers did not produce them. In the late 16th century, Dutch farmers created a hybrid of the white and yellow carrots, which resulted in an orange carrot that was slightly sweeter and plumper than its purple predecessors. With that discovery, farmers started switching over to the orange variety until little by little orange became the norm as it is today.
So, like I said, there is no need to worry. If you ever run into a purple carrot at your local farmers market or happen to be nearby Cuevas Bajas, give the ancient purple veggie a try and see what all the fuss is about.
Warning: cooking with the purple carrot will turn all of your food purple.