In winter the cream was not yellow as it was in summer, and butter churned from it was white and not so pretty. Ma liked everything on her table to be pretty, so in the wintertime she colored the butter.
-Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods
Tonight’s side dish was broccoli, which my kids recently decided isn’t as tasty as it once was. To encourage them I thought I’d serve it with a cheese sauce, but I wanted to make my own, without a zillion grams of sodium or any ingredient beginning with “V.” The best cheese sauce I’ve made — which is still only “eh” in terms of losing the gritty texture — is from a recipe that uses my bionic blender, the Vitamix. Decent sauce, except even when I use orange cheddar it comes out a sallow, unappetizing color that’s not quite yellow and nowhere near the desirable orange hue of the boxed mac-n-cheese. I had a hard time believing my kids would be convinced to eat their broccoli with cheese sauce if the cheese sauce resembled, at least visibly, something not dissimilar to dishwater. Three or four times I almost reached for the orange food coloring, but I kept shutting the cabinet. I didn’t want to resort to that. Cake frosting was one thing; for reasons I couldn’t exactly articulate, cheese sauce was quite another.
Then I thought of something. I had carrots.
After she had put the cream in the tall crockery churn and set it near the stove to warm, she washed and scraped a long orange-colored carrot. Then she grated it on the bottom of the old, leaky tin pan that Pa had punched full of nail-holes for her. …She put this in a little pan of milk on the stove … Then she squeezed the bright yellow milk into the churn where it colored all the cream. Now the butter would be yellow.
At first I grated some baby carrots, or tried to. Finally, nursing needlessly scraped fingers in my mouth, I threw a few carrots directly into the Vitamix with my free hand.
It worked. The sauce was a dull yellow, but it was still yellow. And the carroty taste wasn’t half bad.