40 Carrots (Nebraska, 1987, adapted)

I’m a little bit embarrassed to publish this.  40 Carrots isn’t much of a recipe, and the end result isn’t really worth eating.  Spoiler alert:  it’s cooked carrots and Cheez Whiz.   It tastes exactly like you’d imagine.  My kids still talk about it months later.  I won’t be making this one again.

Why did I choose to make it in the first place?   Morbid curiosity, in part.  Until a few nights ago it had probably been two decades since I last ‘enjoyed’ Cheez Whiz.  It wasn’t exactly on my bucket list.  At the same time, over the last few years I’ve become reacquainted with American cheese and been better for it.  Kraft singles won’t be on my Sunday cheese board anytime soon, but for a certain style of cheeseburger there’s really no substitute.   I don’t love American cheese the way I love, say, a properly affined Epoisses, but I appreciate the role it plays.  I wondered if Cheez Whiz had a similar place in my culinary lexicon.

The name “40 Carrots” also has some nostalgic meaning in our household.  Once upon a time my spouse was a practicing vegetarian, and would cook vegetarian at home while on break from college.  This often included cooking for parents and siblings, all carnivores but generally understanding and supportive.  One family meal featured a main course, which I believe came from the Vegetarian Times Cookbook (1984), also called 40 Carrots.  The details of the recipe are lost to time, although my spouse is certain of two things:   it didn’t involve Cheez Whiz, and the dish was almost comically inedible.  Vegetarian cooking in the mid-80s came with a subtle acknowledgement that you really didn’t like food all that much.  When my spouse returned to eating meat the Vegetarian Times Cookbook ended up at the thrift store, and we may be better off for it.

When making this I wondered why someone would submit something like 40 Carrots to a community cookbook.  The community cookbook commemorates your favorite recipes in print.  Why would anyone attach their name to carrots and Cheez Whiz?  

The answer is frankly a little bit humbling.   This particular recipe comes from a 1987 fundraiser cookbook published for St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska.   The author is a sixty-year-old woman, widowed in her early forties with children still at home.   At the time the cookbook was compiled she was presumably cooking for one.  Her other submissions to the cookbook are simple dump-and-go recipes:  a shepherd’s pie made with canned green beans and mushroom soup, and a spaghetti pie made with Ragu tomato sauce.  Not everyone is going to win a James Beard award, and I’ll give Mrs. N a little bit of latitude for her circumstances.  I can imagine that carrots and Cheez Whiz was a revelation for a single mom.  A great way to get kids to eat their vegetables.

That still doesn’t mean I recommend making this.  Cheez Whiz is better for dipping chips than cooking carrots.  It’s also unnaturally expensive (if you can even find it).  There might be an important lesson here about not judging people for what they like to eat, but learning the lesson shouldn’t require making 40 Carrots for your family.

40 Carrots

40 Carrots (Nebraska, 1987, adapted)

  • Preparation: 5 min
  • Cooking: 11 min
  • Ready in: 16 min
  • For: 4 side dish servings
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  1. Peel carrots and slice into thin coins. Boil in lightly salted water for 10-15 minutes until tender.
  2. Drain carrots. Stir in Cheez Whiz. Serve.

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