Roadside Halwa

In a moment of weakness, I bought a five pound bag of carrots at Sam’s Club a week or two ago. I usually try to get the smaller organic carrots simply because they taste better, but for what I was making these seemed easier. They are big and easy to peel. I wanted to make an Indian desert, gajar ka halwa– a sort of carrot pudding. I tend to choose produce based on how healthy and tasty it is, not where it comes from. These Sam’s Club carrots looked a bit better than what I’d been using from the locally-focused supermarket I normally shop at.

Something really familiar struck me when I pulled out the bag today, attempting to make more progress in using it up. I know Grimmway Farms!

I grew up in a little house a mile or two away. The main arteries in those parts were Panama Lane and Weedpatch Highway (labeled as “Main Street by Google Maps). Saying it was a mile or two away isn’t quite right. Their fields were hundreds of acres in the surrounding area, so the map location doesn’t really begin to describe where they are “at.” During carrot season they were everywhere. Panama Lane and Weedpatch Highway were bordered by an orange carpet of shredded carrots going to and from the packing sheds. Panama lane lead to the the feedlots, just on the other side of the sewage treatment plant (the circular areas on the Google Map) and Weedpatch connected with the main freeway out of town.

Fuller Acres, as it is listed on the map, was the site of the infamous Hilltop Labor camp where Steinbeck and Horace Bristol interviewed migrant farm workers in the 1930s. But I digress; It was a long strange trip for me to end up in Central New York, where the locavores roam, buying a bag of factory carrots grown virtually around the corner from the little house I used to live in near Bakersfield, California. It’s even stranger that in concert with some raw milk sourced from a farm down the street from my house in New York, I was going to make an orange desert from them.

The first step in making Gajar ka halwa (carrot halwa) is to reduce about two cups of milk down to one, making your own evaporated milk by boiling. You’ve got to keep an eye on it and stir frequently, or you’ll make a mess. I really like starting with raw milk; it just tastes better. Regular milk works fine, but in effect becomes “twice boiled milk.” This takes about twenty minutes.

The second step is frying about a pound of grated carrots in three tablespoons of butter or ghee for about ten minutes. They change color slightly, and start to dry out to the consistency of wet straw. They smell really nice; much better than the smell of carrots rotting by the side of the road.

Once you’ve got the preliminary reductions done, you combine the milk and carrots and continue to cook them for about ten minutes or so. When they’ve merged well, you add 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 tsp of cardamom powder. Continue cooking for another five or ten minutes (about a half hour of constant attention all together) until the mixture resembles a sort of orange pudding.

The net is about a pound of carrot pudding (gajar ka halwa), which means that you’ve effectively replaced the moisture in the carrots with milk fat and sugar, rendering them irresistibly delicious. It’s good slightly warm or cold.