Get with the beet

Old-fashioned recipes add flavor to fall vegetable

Old-fashioned recipes add flavor to fall vegetable

October 26, 2005|By JULIE E. GREENE

For the Jacksons, beets are a family affair.

Robert "Bud" Jackson II, 18, has grown the deep-red vegetable in the family's Kemps Mill Road backyard for about nine years, winning the beet competition in the 4-H category at this year's Washington County Ag Expo.

Jackson's mother, Della, uses them to make old-fashioned Harvard beets according to a recipe from her husband's great-great-aunt, the late Betty Gehret.

The beet dish is a favorite of her husband, Bob Jackson, Della Jackson says.

The Jacksons aren't the only ones for whom beets are a family tradition. Beets, which are harvested in the fall, are a key ingredient in some Polish and Russian recipes.


Frederick, Md., resident Helen Mazikins says her mother, Irina Orechovs, often fixed borscht, a beet soup her mother prepared hot almost once a month.

"She'd make a huge pot, so we'd be eating it for days," says Mazikins, who attends St. Catherine's Orthodox Church in Hagerstown.

Borscht soup is a staple of the Russian diet that can include meat and has many variations, she says. Both Mazikins and her husband, Peter, have Russian heritage. Their families each ended up in the United States via other countries - hers, Latvia, Yugoslavia and Canada, and his, Latvia - when their families fled around the time of the Russian Revolution of 1917.

"My husband's family really liked cold borscht in the summer," she says.

The soup is usually served with piroshki, small baked or deep-fried pies containing ground beef and onions, rice and mushrooms, or other combinations.

Diana Alexiou of Chambersburg, Pa., prepared beets with horseradish and beets with sour cream as condiments for the Chambersburg Polka Charities dinner in April.

The condiments are usually served with pork, venison, kielbasa, ham and beef, she says.

Beet recipes are popular in Balkan countries, Alexiou says.

The recipes were handed down from Alexiou's mother, the late Anna Campas, who was Slovak, Alexiou says. Alexiou learned how to make the condiments from watching her mother, who would serve them with ham and kielbasa for Easter.

Here are some tips about beets, courtesy of Washington County Extension Educator Lynn F. Little:

Look for beets that are firm and small, 1 1/2 inches to 2 inches in diameter; large beets have a woody center. Beets should be deep red with unblemished skin; bruised beets will bleed during cooking. Look for bright green leaves; attached leaf stems indicate freshness. Beets should have taproot attached, but avoid large beets with a hairy taproot; the hairs or small roots indicate age and toughness.

Beets are a great source of potassium and Vitamin A and a good source of vitamin C, magnesium and riboflavin. Beet greens are a great source of potassium and a good source for folic acid and magnesium. The beet and greens contain other vitamins too.

Beet greens can be cooked like spinach; blanch and add to soups, salads, stir-fry dishes or pasta sauces. Small, tender greens from early in the growing season are best.

Use lemon juice to remove beet stains on the hands or use gloves.

Eating beets might discolor urine and stools.

Beets are planted in April to early June or June to early August to be harvested in the fall.

Grandma Irina's Borscht

Ingredients for bouillon:

2 pounds beef brisket, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 clove garlic

1 large carrot, halved

1 small parsnip, halved

1 small parsley root, quartered

Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for soup:

3 medium beets, peeled and julienned

1 small onion, diced

1 small green cabbage, sliced into 2-inch strips

1/4 rutabaga, peeled and julienned

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 medium potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 cup tomato puree

1 bay leaf

5 sprigs fresh dill, chopped

Sour cream

Horseradish (optional)

Hot mustard (optional)

Place the bouillon ingredients in a large stock pot with enough water to cover the meat.

Cover the pot, bring to a boil and then simmer for about 1 hour. Remove vegetables and discard. Remove the meat and bones and strain the liquid through a sieve. Return the meat to the soup. Add more water if needed.

While the bouillon is cooking, prepare the vegetables. Lightly saut the vegetables (except the potatoes) in a mixture of butter and vegetable oil.

Add the tomato puree to the bouillon and bring to a boil. Then add all the vegetables except the potatoes. Simmer for 45 minutes. Add the potatoes and bay leaf. Simmer for 30 minutes more. Remove bay leaf.

Serve with sour cream and dill. Horseradish and mustard can be used for the meat, which some people eat last.

- Source: Irina Orechovs' recipe, courtesy of her daughter, Helen Mazikins

Old-Fashioned Harvard Beets, courtesy of Della Jackson

1 pint canning jar of beets or 15-ounce can of sliced or diced beets

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (add more if needed to sour)

1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar (add more if needed to sweeten)

1 tablespoon flour or cornstarch

1/2 cup room-temperature water or beet juice from canning

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