Well it ought. The beet has lived many lives before its most recent re-discovery as a toothsome, colorful addition to the plate. Some claim that they were grown in Nebuchadnezzar’s Hanging Gardens. What evidence anyone could have of this is a mystery, as is the actual location of those fabled gardens. Isn’t it lovely to have a few things yet unexplained?
Trendy A-List Romans served baby beets, or blood turnips, as the very newest in food vogue. Despite these brief periods of popularity, beets and their root brethren were generally considered peasant food. One particularly large, coarse variety, the mangel-wurzel was used solely as cattle fodder. Then again humans once believed that the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth. Fortunately, questing taste buds have long since put the beet back on our tables.
Beets have long been used as dyes: first for cloth, much later for the fanciful and sometimes intricate coloring Easter eggs. There are tales of beet wine, but apparently grapes won that game. The rich color of beets is still used to intensify the color of ice creams, candies, jams, jellies, tomato sauces and even breakfast cereals.
Native to the Mediterranean Basin, beets were initially cultivated for only their leaves, which through development became Swiss Chard. Over the course of time, beets were used to counteract garlic breath; employed as a laxative; and used to treat digestive and blood disorders. As of today’s intelligence, the beet contains no fat, is an acknowledged energy booster, improves circulation, reduces high blood pressure and hypertension, and is a good source of vitamins A and C.
The beet can be eaten raw, roasted, boiled, steamed, sautéed, grilled, braised and pickled. It is equally open to many flavor combinations including nuts, cheeses, garlic, chives, shallots, basil, ginger, oranges, lemons, Moroccan and Asian spice combinations, farro, risotto, pasta, yogurts and sour cream. Our market offers golden beets, the Italian Chiogga beets with their pretty concentric circles, baby beets, orange beets and the traditional deep garnet beets. There are dozens of beet recipes on our website, including Mixed Beets with Chevre, Pistachios and Thai Basil, Roasted Beet Hummus, Golden Beet Flan, Pickled Beets (which are a great addition to a hamburger), Cream of Beet Spread (a terrific alternative for sandwiches and wraps) and Nana’s Cold Borscht Soup. For today Kay Carroll has shared with us her easy way to roast beets without turning the oven on: Slow Cooker Roasted Beets in Foil.
There were summers in which the heat rose off those endless miles of two-lane blacktop roads and shimmered in drowsy waves the air, giving them the quality of a mirage, of possibilities. Sometimes you might see a few humpbacked cars pulled over on a rural road where you might also see whole families battling briars to pick berries, filling every container they could find or jury-rig from their clothing. Boys cupped the front tails of their shirts, men used their hats, and women used everything from dishtowels to beach buckets scavenged from the trunks. Scrambling around for a container of some sort, you pulled over to join them enthusiastically.
We can thank the Wampanoag Indians not only for teaching earliest settlers how to grow corn, but how to collect wild blueberries, how to dry and store them for winter use and to combine them with dried venison for leaner times. Blueberries are loved as much by deer, bears and ducks as by humans. But the most pernicious of our blueberry competitors are birds.
A contest used to take place every year on a beautiful island where a beach house sat surrounded by blueberry bushes. Inhabitants of this house would wait, charting the ripening process each morning, checking to see just to what degree those green berries were becoming blue and precisely how blue. Cocky Bluejays, perched on deck railings, twisted their heads from side to side performing the same task. Those cunning, bossy birds almost always got there first in the pre-dawn hours of the peak ripening day. Must have been the only time in their lives they were quiet. Fortunately, those bushes were prolific.
Native to North America, the sweet blueberry, for inexplicable reasons, only made it east to Europe in the 1930s. Research indicates that there is a sub-variety from the Carolinas with the fanciful name of Rabbiteye Blueberries. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if there really were blue-eyed rabbits?
The tasty blueberry is a bit of a miracle fruit. It is low in calories and carbohydrates; contains the highest concentration of antioxidants; is thought to help lower blood pressure and reduce the DNA damage of aging. Not bad for such a tiny fruit. Blueberry recipes on the website include: Blueberry Coconut Lassi, Blackberry-Blueberry Pie, and Blueberry Slushie. Today we’re offering Blueberry Lemon Icebox Cake, which isn’t a cake but a delicious frozen treat.
Not all fruits acquire the cachet of strawberries. No world-class novel ever celebrated dawn with Champagne and plums or wallowed in indulgent luxury with chocolate covered apricots. No Academy Award winning movie commemorates the opulent, sensual pleasures of the crisp apple, though when in “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” Tess’s ignominious cousin placed that lush red, heart-shaped strawberry between her teeth we all held our breath. Then there’s Bergman’s nostalgic memory of the picking of wild strawberries with a first love. The strawberry, and its first cousin the rose, were made for romance.
Of course, strawberries were made for eating too. No matter how many of those little crates of spectacular berries are gathered from our market, more would have been better. Some get consumed on the way home. Some find their way into the mouths of those rinsing them off. Even more disappear while being measured for a recipe. Not infrequently, the serving dishes have to be downsized before the strawberries actually make it to the table.
It is Cardinal Wolsey who is credited with the classic pairing of strawberries and cream as a treat for the forever grateful Henry VIII. In Henry’s court, fourteen years was forever. Contrary to a myth held dear in the southern U. S., strawberry shortcake was invented in England. Inexplicably, National Strawberry Day is February 27th. More appropriately Strawberry Shortcake Day is in June. The original recipes called for stacking of sweet biscuit halves layered with strawberries and drizzling the whole with a sweetened cream. About 1910, French pastry chefs got into the act and substituted whipped heavy cream. Evolution at its finest.
Strawberries are so easy to dress up, just slice a few into a wine or martini glass, add a dollop of whipped cream, or fresh yogurt mixed with brown sugar or just a spoonful of crème fraîche and it is a dessert worthy of even the most fanatical foodie. You can dip them in chocolate; marinate them in balsamic vinegar; and process them into a dessert soup. Or you can just put a bowl on the table and watch them vanish...On our website you’ll be able to find many recipes for strawberries, including Strawberry Granita, Straaberra Pye, Strawberry Risotto and Strawberry Coconut Soup. For today, we offering fresh Old Fashioned Strawberry Ice Cream.