The Revealing, Secret Diaries of a Not-So-Secret Foodie


In Essay, Food, food photography, Gab, Garden, Photos, Recipe on June 25, 2012 at 4:58 pm

beetsThe clothesline is empty.  So is the blooming clover that fills the yard. Yesterday’s bumblebees have not yet reoccupied their spiky white posts. The stillness of the early hour broken only by our flip flops clicking an unintended chorus.  Their perfect rhythm times a whiney creak.  The lonely song of the handle of a pail.  Swinging back and forth, wrapped around my arm on my elbow like a purse. For a moment it quiets.  Paused at the putting hole, pocketing a forgotten golf ball, I  look back towards the house. Our steps have left an interesting trail in the cool dew. Grandma calls my name. Ahead of me she’s stopped, waiting for me to catch up.

Clicking and creaking, side by side now, we make the short trek around the patch of pines arriving at the plowed spot beside a pair of barren plum trees. Shaded in their shadow, Grandma recalls the sweet fruit of seasons past, so many years ago. Her father planted the trees. It was hard to imagine such sweetness today standing, old and disfigured from disease. A decade had passed since a plum last clung to a branch, but yet the pair remain. No longer known for their plump fruit but rather their arching foliage. For beneath their untamed branches, a cool respite from the hot work of afternoon weeding could always be found.

Startled by our sudden appearance in the garden, several bunnies make a hasty departure from beneath the leafy greens. Grandma’s brow furrows as she watches them dart out of sight beyond the gnarled grapevines to the safety of the open field. Their affinity for her red leaf lettuce the reason for pungent scent of marigolds and mothballs. Each woven in with the rows of green vegetation that sprawl out before us. Moles and rabbits; these two creatures and how to best get rid of them, were always a lively topic of debate whenever a neighbor or relative stopped for a visit.

Sometimes while sipping soda from a glass bottle through a bendy straw, I’d listen to them talk. As I’d watch the dark liquid go round and round in loops I’d hear them trade gardening tips, swap new recipes or discuss the latest forecast which always revolved around some lack of much-needed rain. These back porch chats always revealed some unusual tidbit of knowledge. Where else could a nine-year old learn that discarded nylons with runs were far superior to sandwich ties for staking tomatoes because they wouldn’t severe the vine as it heavied with fruit. Or, that a small cup of beer placed next to a hosta was sure to solve any slug problem. And, that tin foil placed carefully around the base of each plant is why Uncle Joe always had the most beautiful eggplants.

This was not a fast food generation. Growing food seemed more than a hobby to them. Although none were farmers, working the earth was clearly part of their heritage. It was as if, way back when, putting away a midsummer’s bounty was more of a necessity than the passionate tradition it had become. Perhaps a time or place when not only a kitchen cupboard could run bare but a market’s shelf might lay empty during the depths of winter or worse yet, war. Many of the foods they grew were preserved, canned and at times, even braided for storage. I had once helped with the harvest of garlic. It wasn’t much different then braiding hair. Twelve heads per chain with a neat loop tied at the end. On a nail they’d hang from that loop in the darkness of the garage drying, waiting to be used long after the green garden had faded and the ground was frozen, hard.

But today the garden was vibrant and overflowing. And I was here to learn. Today’s Lesson: Pickled Beets. Somehow I knew that passing down the “know-how” of our food traditions was important to my Grandma. Just as it had been to someone before her. So together as we made our way further into the garden past the bunching onions and beyond the pepper plants, I took in every detail. Like the morning robin who struggled to pull that earthworm from beneath the damp, dark soil. Not too unlike the pull and pressure needed to release each ruby gem from beneath the earth that held it captive. Or, how their deep green leafy tops were veined in a network of scarlet. Just like the back of that elderly woman’s legs I had once watched climb out of the pool at the local Y as I waited to use the ladder to exit the deep end. Our pail quickly filled as we went up and down the rows of leafy tops, pulling out every other one. Giving the beet that remained plenty of space to grow. With the harvest complete and pail heaping, we made our way back to the house.

The spigot squealed beneath my hand as it turned round and round. While I waited for the water to make its way through the coiled hose, I looked down at our muddy collection. Could anything worth preserving really come from such humble beginnings? Despite my doubts, as instructed, I hosed them off. We gathered them up and carried them through the garage, up the stairs and into the kitchen. On the stove was an enormous pot. Grandma moved quickly. First lighting the stove and then turning her attention to the mound of beets that were now strewed in the sink. While scrubbing and trimming, as if the host of her own cooking show, she told me what she was doing and why. “First, trim the tops. But be sure to leave on about an inch above the beet”, she instructed. “And remember, do not remove the roots. Leave them intact or they will bleed out all of the color”, she cautioned. “We’ll boil them whole and unpeeled, until fork tender. The large beets we’ll cut in wedges and put up in quart jars. The smaller ones we’ll slice and pack into the pints”, she continued. So much information, none of which seemed to be listed on the small white index card that held the special recipe for the brine. The details were all in her head. And she was sharing them with me.

Suddenly, I felt a sense of responsibility. A funny thing to feel for a beet. A puppy would be understandable, but a beet? Yep, that’s what I felt. It was simple really. In the land of apple pie where a bowl of borscht was nowhere to be found that beet became more than a bright little vegetable stored in a jar. Those pickled roots contained the unwritten story of a family. One generations old with a cast of characters, interesting and distinct. Rich with history and hardship. Full of love and triumph. With beginnings and endings and new chapters yet to unfold. As we packed those Ball jars to the brim with ruby-red slices and carefully nestled a hard-boiled egg in the sea of purple brine, I began to understand the significance of those beets. And despite my young age, I knew it was more than just a really good recipe that had been entrusted to me.

Believe. Danada Farm. February 2012

Beets; a favorite food of mine. I love them. Always have, ever since the first time I tasted them straight out of the jar as a kid. People seem to either adore them or despise them. In my experience the world is divided into two camps: Beet Lovers and Beet Haters. My next recipe is for all you beet lovers out there. A simple, yet elegant dish that is a real show stopper when used as a starting course. Although packed with nutrients and easy to put together, this dish is a real treat. Be sure to gather a piece of arugula, cheese and roasted beet on your fork and enjoy in one bite. The earthiness of the beet, the peppery flavor of the arugula and the saltiness of the cheese are wonderful when tasted together. The original recipe calls for Kefalotyri, a hard Greek cheese that I have used and is wonderful. Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano are also delish. When roasting the beets, leave them in their skins with roots and stem intact. Do not be alarmed if they shrink from their skins and look overdone. When peeled, a beautifully tender and vibrant beet will be revealed. Beets can be roasted the day before and stored in their skins in an airtight container for a day or so. One tip is to wear gloves when peeling & slicing them. Although I never wear them and it hasn’t happened to me, one friend told me a tale of magenta hands that lasted for days. Good thing we’ve been pals since childhood!

Nest of Arugula with Roasted Beets and Parmagian-Reggiano in Simple Vinegarette.

Nest of Arugula with Roasted Beets and Parmesan-Reggiano in Simple Vinaigrette

Roasted Organic Beet & Arugula Salad with Kefalotyri Cheese 


3-4 Organic Beets (about 1 Pound of similar size)

1 Teaspoon High Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar

1/2 Teaspoon Salt

1/2 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Pepper

6 Cups of Organic Arugula

1/4 Cup (1-ounce) Shaved, Fresh Kefalotyri Cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Pecorino Romano

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Leave on root and 1/2 to 1 inch stem on beets and scrub under running water. Place beets on a foil-lined baking dish. Bake at 425 for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until tender. Cool. Peel and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Combine oil, vinegar, salt and pepper with whisk. Arrange roasted beet slices in a single layer around serving dish. Drizzle beets with half of the dressing. Combine remaining dressing and organic arugula in a bowl. Toss gently to coat. Nest arugula in middle of ring of beets. Top with shaved Cheese.

Before: Washed Organic Red and Golden Beets on a Foil-lined Baking Sheet.

After: Organic Red and Golden Beets Oven-roasted at 425 degrees for 1 Hour and 15 Minutes.

©, 2011-2012.

Photos by suebthefoodie.

Recipe by Joanne Weir and published in Cooking Light.

  1. Sue…best yet! Actually, I think I might even try this…Unc loves beets! Wonder why?

  2. Sue, this is a lovely salad. I love the contrast of the red and golden beets. Thank you for stopping by Life Through the Kitchen Window and commenting on my marinated beet post. Seems a lot of us have beets on the mind these days!

  3. Beautifully written story! It reminds me of growing up and hating the idea of each fruit tree in the yard needing picking – cherry, apple, plum, pear. The horror of spending ALL DAY picking fruit and not even eating any (well, maybe a few cherries here and there!). Yet, the whole peach process was something to look forward to – the fresh ones gushing juice all down your arms. Then – as you mentioned, mason jars, lids, bowls, sugar, etc, boiling them, the so-fun job of skinning them in a sink of cold water with my cousin, watching my mom masterfully slice them up, sneaking a few warm, skinless peach slices before the mason jars disappeared into the giant pots. Something special about canning/creating something as a child (or adult!) with a mom, grandma, or special relative. LOVED your post. 😀

  4. These look delicious! I am a newbie at cooking beets, but I will certainly give this a try. Many thanks for sharing! Love the photos.

    • Thank you. I had never roasted them before this recipe. Hope you enjoy this prep. Cheers.

  5. Thanks for visiting my blog 🙂 I had to check out your beet story! I’ve never roasted beets whole but I’m totally trying it next time!

    • Thank you for checking out my story, Beets. I had never roasted them whole before I ran across this preparation. Hope you enjoy. -Cheers

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