You read that right. A ghost beet. You know the vegetable that is usually blood-red, dripping purplish juice into salads and onto white shirts? We harvested our beets last week and were surprised to find, lurking among their bloodier neighbors, two white beets.
I had to cook them and try them out, of course. They processed just like their red cousins, and the pickles made from them were right pretty. Taste? Well, a little less beet-y, I suppose, but there was no red juice ruining the look of my tossed salad either.
Apparently white beets have been around a long time, but were usually cultivated for livestock feed. All beets, I learned, come from a common ancestor, a wild plant of the seashores in the US, Mediteranean and Africa, but the white beet apparently originated in central Europe. They can be stored as a root crop or harvested for baby beets.
So if you don't like red juice running all over your salads, maybe white beets are an alternative. As for me, I think I'll stick with the vitamin-rich red beet. Besides their health benefits, they provide the invaluable purrple-red dye for Easter eggs in the spring, and who would want to give that up?
Here's the recipe for pickled beets, our favorite way to preserve them:
You will need about 7 pounds of beets for this recipe. If you have more beets than that, simply double or triple the other ingredients as needed.
Wash and scrub beets thoroughly and remove the tops, leaving about 1 inch of the leaves (that's so the color doesn't run out of the top of the beet).
Cover with water and boil about 25 minutes or until the skins slip off easily.
Drain (be careful! This is boiling hot liquid) and cool (I cover them with cold water and let them sit for about 10 minutes or so.
Cut beets into the size pieces desired (I like one-inch cubes best) and pack into hot, sterilized jars.
Make your pickling solution in a separate large saucepan while the beets cook: mix two cups of water to 4 cups of vinegar, 2 cups of sugar, and a teaspoon of salt. In a muslin or net bag, mix 1 teaspoon whole allspice, 1 teaspoon whole cloves, and 2 cinnamon sticks broken into pieces. You may need to vary the spice mix to your own taste. I tend to add a little more of each to make a spicier end product.
Place the bag of spices in the vinegar solution and heat to boiling. When it reaches a boil, turn down the heat and simmer about 15 minutes so the spice flavors mingle well with the liquid. Then remove the spice bag and ladle the hot liquid over the beets in the jars, covering the beets and leaving about 1 inch headspace.
Put lids and rings on the jars and tighten. Place in a boiling water bath for 40 minutes. Remove, complete seals as needed and let cool. This will make about 8 pints.
For a slightly different recipe, check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation's website.
Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.