Beets have been cultivated for about 4 thousand years. I suppose this fact alone is capable of making beets seem old fashioned. Or at least just old. I really didn’t have anything against beets for most of my life, indeed, I didn’t really acknowlege their existence until I made a simple, dreadful error in a caffeteria line. I really love canberry sauce, the kind that comes in a can. So whatever cook decided to put out thinly sliced beets sometime in November was playing a particularly cruel joke on yours truely. Nevertheless, with my extra large helping of beet, not cranberry sauce, I made the best of it and ate them. They were pretty good, but I couldn’t help holding a little grudge against beets after that. (They could have at least warned me they were beets)
Thus it was only with passing notice that I helped my wife plant our first garden. My parents plow up a chunk of ground, and a small corner had been cordoned off for us to frolic in. We were given a gift certificate for a mail order seed catalog, which had a (small) organic section. After drooling over glossy pictures of incredible veggies, we picked some names off the organic list that promised to generate veggies identical to the ones in the photos. There were a number of common foods we skipped due to prolific abundance at the organic market, or lack of interest. (Lima beans are just gross.) So we ordered cucumber, okra, carots, and beets.
Had I paid any attention to the world around me growing up, I would have surely noted that beets grow well in the south. Soft soil, plenty of sunlight, and if you haul it in, lots of water. These are about the only things that beets need to grow. And grow. And perhaps multiply a few times undergound in the dead of night. No matter who is to blame, by mid July we were harvesting beets about every 3 days, and coming back with bags full. At first we just sat them on the counter and padded each other on the backs saying ‘You’re a really good gardener!’ and ‘No! You’re a really good gardener!’ and then ‘What do we do with them??’ We ate some of the greens in salad, and tried a few raw beets sliced up, and then decided that raw beets were hard to eat. And that’s how I came to know Borsch. Hailing from the ancient culinary seeds of Unkraininan survival manuals, Borsch is a soup made from beets. We pulled out our trusty Nourishing Traditions, looked up beets, flipped over to beet soup (page 220) and started happily making dinner. What’s that? Ah, yes. I told you I met Borsch, and here I am talking about beet soup. Well, we made a few changes to the recipe. For instance, the recipe expressly forbids the use of meat stock, which is the staring point of many Eastern European traditional recipes. Also, we happened to have several heads of garlic that were begging to be eaten. So with the stock, garlic, and beets, we were ready to go. Oh, we may have tossed in an onion. And some carrots. but this is precisly the spirit of traditional Borsch: Start cooking beets, add stuff that tastes good. And in spite of my misgivings, I really liked the stuff. We started eating Borsch at least once a week. We had beet greens in our salad, and baked beets as side dishes. We even tried to preserve some by fermenting them in jars, as prescribed on page 98, but that experiment didn’t work. Other than pickling failures, I learned to enjoy beets-even love them. The fresh, earthy flavor they impart, even when cooked, gives a delightful tone to the meal.
So, if you have an infestation of beet, I suggest Borsch.