Beets

February_Beets.JPG

I love beets!

Red beets. I’m not partial to Golden Beets or Chioggia Beets, although since they’re non-staining, they have their place. Red Beets deliver brilliant color, silky texture and pronounced earthiness. Red beets are of the earth. One imagines them being dug and turned over and the fresh, sweet smelling earth knocked off. The beet greens are delicious, as well, but I don’t like to eat the greens as often as I like to eat the beets, so I’m likely to buy the beets loose, without the greens.

Beets of my childhood were Harvard Beets or Pickled Beets, I don’t remember them any other way. It seems like beets are used more nowadays, they certainly appear in more sophisticated dishes. Alice Waters has 5 recipes for beets in Chez Panisse Vegetables, mainly salads. As for soups, in Soup: A Way of Life by Barbara Kafka, there are 8 distinct recipes, including 3 variations of borcht.

The beet season runs from June through October, but properly grown and stored, they’re good and available year ‘round. Walking by a big pile of beets at the Farmers Market, I got a hankering for Harvard Beets. “Good luck finding a recipe,” I thought, but I dug out our copy of The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, First Edition, Fifth Printing, copyright 1953. Sure enough, there are four beet recipes; Harvard Beets, Pickled Beets, Deviled Beets and Shredded Beets.

This book was a shower gift to Carol upon the occasion of our wedding, and I’m pleased to say that both are still in this home. The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (BHG) was THE home cooking book of the time, with its familiar red plaid binder and loose leaf format.

Though no longer the gold standard for home cooking, BHG is now in its Twelfth Edition, copyright 2002 and is available in hardcover and paperback, as well as the binder. Sad to say, there’s only one dish listed under Beets, Orange-Glazed Beets on page 513, with a “low fat” notation.

In virtually all beet recipes, the beets are cooked first, then augmented for use in soups, salads or as a side dish. The age old method is to boil them in their skins. BHG, in its Cooking Times Table says to boil new beets for 35 minutes, old beets for 65 minutes. But in boiling, some color and flavor is lost.

I much prefer roasting:

ready to roast

in the oven

roasted nicely

Roast Beets
Trim the tops and the long tails to about 1/2-inch, lay out on a piece of foil big enough to wrap them, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water, drizzle with olive oil, wrap and roast in a 350 ° oven (I use the trusty toaster oven) until tender, about an hour. After about 45 minutes test by sticking a paring knife through the foil into a beet. When they’re cool enough, you can slip the skins off with your fingers or with the aid of a paper towel. This is the time you might salt and pepper a small beet and pop it in your mouth. Ummm good.

Why are they called Harvard Beets? I consulted with foodreference.com. The story goes that the recipe was conjured up by a Harvard student, or was it a Yale Student, Yale Beets?? There is also a story that they originated in a tavern in England named ‘Harwood’ and the ‘Harvard’ is a mispronunciation of the name. My guess is that they are called Harvard Beets for their Crimson color; The Harvard Crimson. Yale is for Blue and White Bulldogs.

Because my 1953 edition is long out of print, and as far as I know unavailable, it is informative to transcribe the recipes exactly as they were written then. BHG didn’t mince words, and assumed the reader knew what she (and you can bet it was she in the 50’s) was doing.

Harvard Beets
Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook, First Edition
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vinegar
2 cups cubed canned or cooked beets
Melt butter; add cornstarch, sugar and salt; blend. Add vinegar; cook until thick. Add beets, heat thoroughly. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Creamy, gooey, sweet and sour and seriously red! Be sure to wear an apron during preparation.

Pickled Beets
Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook, First Edition
Combine 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup vinegar, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon cloves; heat to boiling and pour over 2 cups sliced cooked beets. Let stand 6 hours.
Very pickled… get ready to pucker up.

By gosh, these recipes look pretty much alike:

Pickled Beets   Harvard Beets
2 cups sliced cooked beets   2 cups cubed cooked beets
1/2 cup water  
1/2 cup vinegar   1/2 cup vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar   1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt   1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon  
1/4 teaspoon cloves  
  2 tablespoon butter
  1 tablespoon cornstarch

Deviled Beets

Blend then heat:

3 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon paprika
salt

Pour over 3 cups cooked beets.

These are pretty good, nice and mustardy, spicy. I ate the leftovers cold on the side with soup.

Shredded Beets

Pare beets; shred on medium shredder.

Add small amount boiling water to shredded beets; cover tightly and cook 10 minutes.

Season with butter, salt, and pepper.

I haven’t yet cooked these, they look pretty ordinary.

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