When I was a kid, back in the 50s and early 60s, our family ate a lot of canned vegetables. Some we canned ourselves. Right after canned peas, the stuff I hated the most were canned beets. I hated that taste so bad that it took years to recover my ability to appreciate beets. Now I’m totally in love with them, and so is my wife.
Living in Alaska, we were frustrated that beets planted as seed in the ground in late May do not ripen until mid-August or later. Last year, I experimented in starting beet seeds in 6-ounce starter containers and transplanting them in the garden.
I also planted some into the ground as seed. The result of the transplant project was amazing. We began eating full-size beets in early July. This year, I started over 100 in little six-packs, and all but the last 36 are planted and growing rapidly.
Some of the early transplants are now larger than a quarter, and we expect to be harvesting before the end of June.
Beets are very nutritious. Their young leaves are also one of the tastiest of fresh greens. In the early days of cultivation, in the second millennium BC, they were primarily grown for the leaves. That had changed by the 7th century AD, and alongside their use as a sugar making product, their use as a storable root vegetable expanded. Some varieties store almost as well as potatoes in cool root cellar environments.
Beets may be pickled in both Eastern and Western traditions. Beets, pickled in Kerr jars, are an Alaska staple, but some of my Japanese and Korean American friends pickle them in rice vinegar, along with burdock, or even in combinations with choys, sort of like a cross between Korean fresh pickled vegetables and kim chee.
Read the rest of this entry →