Did you know there are different colored beets and that each color has its own level of “earthy” taste? The “earthy” taste of beets comes from the presence of geosmin, which literally translates to “earth smell”.
The following three varieties are key players at my local farmers market:
- “Burpee’s Golden”, a beet with orange-red skin and yellow flesh.
- “Chioggia”, an open-pollinated variety originally grown in Italy. The concentric rings of its pink/red and white roots are visually striking when sliced. As a heritage variety, Chioggia is largely unimproved and has relatively high concentrations of geosmin.
- “Detroit Dark Red”, with relatively low concentrations of geosmin, and is therefore a popular commercial cultivar in the United States.
When I was growing up, my grandmother & aunties would get together in the fall and have huge canning parties. They would can a variety of items; beets, tomatoes, green beans, apples and peaches. I was too young to do more than cause problems & be in the way. I was usually shooed out of the kitchen.
Fast forward about 10 years & I moved to Southern California. I saw all the seasonal fruit & veggies and thought, “I should be canning this stuff”. I ask my peers & they looked at me like I had lost my mind. Canning? Who does that? I called my mom and grandma for advice & recipes. I canned quite a bit the first couple of season. I enjoyed it, labor intensive, but after a few years I gave it up.
About 6 months ago, I found The Lazy Ox Canteen. Their dishes are made from farm fresh ingredients. Chef Centeno draws his inspiration from modern and traditional French, Mexican, Japanese and Catalan cuisines. The plates are always changing depending on the seasons. One of the appetizers was pickled veggies – onions, beets and cucumbers. I fell in love with the beets! I ordered them every time I went, with hopes of re-create the recipe. There was one small problem, what was the acid ratio to sugar ratio? I called my Aunt Lisa & she gave me some suggestions, but I was still clueless. At wits end, I approached Chef with hopes of getting the secret. He gave me the list of ingredients, but not the measurements.
The next day I went to the farmers market and purchased orange beets, pink beets, orange, dill and garlic. The reason you want to avoid the red beets goes back to the intro of this post. There is too much geosmin-”earth smell” in them & the flavor will delete the spices. My next stop was to get white wine vinegar & champagne vinegar. The champagne vinegar was the flavor that confused me when I was attempting to re-create the recipe. I ran home, grabbed quart jars & stuffed them full. I put them in the refrigerator and waited 2 weeks. Amazing!
Since the pickled beets were a huge success, the back of my refrigerator and the dark corners of my pantry have turned into a food science lab. Pickled beets, balsamic pickled onion, cherry balsamic preserves and pickled cherries to name a few.
(This is my base recipe & a work in progress. Makes 1 quart.)
8 medium orange or pink beets
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup champagne vinegar
Zest of 1 orange, use a sharp peeler to remove. Avoid the white pith
1 jalapeno pepper, slice in half, remove or leave the seeds – depending your heat preference
2 large sprigs of fresh dill
1 tsp. dill seed
4 cloves garlic, peel & slice in half
Remove the tops & roots of the beets. Take a large sauce pan & fill half way with water. Bring to a boil. Add the beets. Boil 15 to 20 minutes. (They should be just fork tender.)
Once they are done, place them in a colander & run cold water over them. When they are cool to the touch, peel & slice off a thin layer of the top & bottom. Cut each beet into quarters or smaller if they are bigger beets.
While the beets are cooking, wash quart jar with soap & water. Fill jar with boiling water & leave for 5 minutes. Empty water from jar. Put in the orange zest, jalapeno pepper, fresh dill, dill seed & garlic into jar. Add the quartered beets, pressing down gently. Fill almost to the top.
Pour the vinegars & sugar into a small saucepan. Place saucepan on stove & bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes or until sugar is dissolved. (At this point you can taste the mixture to see if it needs more sugar.)
Slowly pour the hot sugar/vinegar mixture into the jar. Fill to the very top of the jar. Wipe off edge of jar with a clean cloth & place on the lid & ring. Tighten ring, but not too much because you will have to get it off later. Shake jar well to move the spices around.
Place in the refrigerator and shake everyday for 7 days. Leave another 7 days. As temping as it is to taste them, they need this time to pickle & develop their flavor. After two weeks, they will be ready. Try not to eat the whole jar in one setting.
P.S. The pickled cherries are hanging out in white vinegar. After 10 days, they will end up in lots of sugar for 3 months. I will blog the results.