The Suitcase Lady


November 5, 2013, 9:10 pm

Pulling into my driveway, I spotted a bulging plastic bag beside the door. After getting the car into the garage, I peered into the mystery bag to discover a big pile of dirty brown lumps. “Terrific,” I thought, “my neighbor has given us beets freshly dug from his garden.”  Unwashed beets are truly the ugly ducklings of the vegetable world.

I was delighted to get a gift of beets, but I know that many people would not be. I understand how veggies in the cabbage family can be loathed, their powerful aromas can linger in a house for days. But how can ruby red, mild flavored beets induce distaste? Perhaps some beet haters can enlighten me.

Beta vulgaris or beets can be loosely classified into four groups: the table beet, eaten for its root, the leaf beet, or chard, the sugar beet and the mangel-wurzel. (No, I did not make up that last one.)

Beets go far back in history. The earliest Romans ate only the leaves, by the time the Christians showed up, the Romans were indulging in both the leaves and the roots.

The sugar beet is an improved variety of B. vulgaris. It is long, skinny, white and indebted to Napoleon Bonaparte for its popularity as a source of sugar. An English blockade of France had cut off France’s sources of cane sugar. Napoleon solved the sugar crisis by having 70,000 acres planted in sugar beets. A refinery was set up in Paris and the Parisians again could have their cake and other sublime pastries as well.

The mangel-wurzel, a.k.a. mangold, is large, coarse, yellow to reddish-orange and best eaten if you are a member of the cattle or pig family. The English, however, use them for sport as well as animal fodder. In the village of Silverston each October, teams of three players hurl mangel-wurzels in turn, aiming to hit a large, leafless mangel-wurzel known as “the Norman”. (Grudges do have a long shelf life!) Check out The Mangold Hurling Association website.

At our house we prefer to eat our beets, sprinkled with grated orange zest and dotted with butter.



2 Comments for this entry

  • Jen

    Beets are the best! I have never understood why people don’t like them. Sweet, delicious and sooooo pretty. But there is a mighty beet haters crew out there, including our own Olivia! Ah well. Their loss. More for the rest of us!

    BTW: I loved it when we had beets with Mac and cheese growing up and the macaroni turned pink. Awesome. Still eat those two things together today. And, one of my other favorite beet memories is a particularly delicious dinner with Alan in NYC at the Union Square Cafe that featured deep fried beets. Kinda like a noveau jelly donut. Soooo good!