January Autumn of the Month: Beetroot –

January Autumn of the Month: Beetroot –


Beets, or “beets”, are plants with edible greens and taproot in them Amaranthaceae family. They are part of the species Beta vulgaris, along with chard and sugar beets. The plant was first grown in the Mediterranean and Middle East regions and is now a staple ingredient in kitchens throughout Europe and North America.

In North America, the round sweet root vegetables are called “beets”, while in British English and other parts of the world they are referred to as “beetroot”. Today, beetroot is one of the few vegetables grown locally and available year-round in the Adirondack region.

For many reasons, beets have gained a strong reputation in the United States. People love them or hate them. Some people are sensitive to their “earthly” taste, it is thanks to a compound called geosmin, which is also the compound that we associate with the smell of “fresh rain” and “forest soil”. Some people are much more sensitive to this connection than others. However, their nutritional, symbolic, and practical properties have kept them on the menu from 1000+ BCE to the present day.


Top: Beetroot Left: Chard, a plant grown for its vegetables in the same species as beets

History and facts

What we know as tranquility today comes from a wild “oatmeal” that grew on the coasts of Europe, North Africa, Asia and India. Beets were first grown and eaten off Mostly ancient Greeks, Romans and Israelites for their edible leaves. Their large stalks were eaten like chard. The leaves, stems and roots were also used medicinally by ancient Romans specifically to relieve constipation.

The first recorded evidence of sugar beet roots (what we call beets in the US) are grown and eaten regularly dates back to 1542 in Germany and Italy. To begin with, the beets were long and thin and looked more like parsnips. In the late 16th century, the commonly used beets resembled the bulbous, round beets that are common today. Northeastern Europe was the first region to turn beets into a culinary staple.

Due to the sugary nature of beets, a chemist in Berlin in the 1740s developed a way to extract sucrose from their roots. Fredrick the Great, King of Prussia, subsidized the sugar beet industry, and a sugar beet extraction plant was built in what is now western Poland, under his leadership from 1740-1772. As the popularity of “sugar beets” (large beets grown and bred specifically for high-sucrose roots) grew, so did beet beer, molasses, and other sweetened products.

In the 16th century, roejuice was used as a dye for clothing, and in the 19th century, Victorians used roejuice to dye their hair. Beets are also an important part of folklore and culture even today. During the Jewish celebration of Rosh Hashana, beets, apples, pomegranates and other fruits and vegetables can be eaten to set intentions for a “healthy and sweet” New Year. Learn much more about why and how beets are sometimes part of Rosh Hashanna ceremonies here.

Because beets were a solid crop for European settlers who settled in North America because they can be grown in cooler climates and stored well in winter. They were an important survival crop, especially during what European colonists called the “Six Weeks of Want,” the period from January to March in the northeastern parts of the modern United States, where most plant life is dormant and most vegetables and fruits are in stock. has been used up.

Tranquility was also an important food in the United States during World War II, when Victory Gardens became popular throughout the country. The beet was easy to grow and embodied the culture of careful ingenuity as the vegetables could be picked and eaten and the root could be cooked and used in many ways.

January Autumn of the Month: Beetroot –

Autumn at Juniper Hill Farm, Wadhams, NY by Ben Stechschulte

How they are grown

The current top producers of both edible beet roots and sugar beets are Russia, France, USA and Germany. Minnesota and North Dakota are top states in the United States for growing sugar beets, which is usually done on a large commercial scale. Sugar beet production is such a large industry that it is estimated that 30% of the sugar in the world comes from sugar beet. Edible beets and vegetables are grown on most different vegetable farms in the Northeast.

Beets come in many different colors, shapes and sizes. From large deep reds to smaller golden, pink, striped and white roots. They are an integral part of farmers’ market tables, CSA stocks and farmstead vegetables in the Adirondacks.

Generally, freshly picked beets with their vegetables are available from local farms from June to November. Beets without greens attached, usually packed in a plastic bag and called “storage beets” are generally available the rest of the year.

On small farms, beets are usually grown in dense rows, detached from the ground and picked by hand. They can be grown by directly planting seeds in the ground or transplanting small plants started in a greenhouse. Farmers adjust the soil, water and planting time to help the plants develop large, sore roots.

Beets are also commonly grown in the Northeast as part of colorful micro-green blends along with chard.


3 ways to enjoy

As mentioned, beetroot is an incredibly sweet, tender vegetable that we have the pleasure of enjoying almost all year round in the Adirondacks!

Because of the same things that make beets the deep red color, they are full of nutrients and vitamins not commonly found in other vegetables. According to the Cleveland Clinic, they are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

A warning, if you have never cooked fresh beets at home before, know that their juice can stain your cutting board, hands and kitchen rolls. Their bright red color pigments also do not degrade when we eat them, so you may notice some completely harmless but potentially alarming side effects the first time you eat fresh beets.

Tips for cooking beets so they do not taste like dirt

There are a few ways that beets can be cooked that mask their “earthy” taste. One way is to pair them with bright, sweet, fresh flavors. By adding vinegar, lemon juice, fresh herbs, sour cheese or yogurt to your dish, you help balance the flavor. This is why you usually see roasted beets and goat cheese together, as in this one marinated beetroot and goat cheese salad.

Fry or sauté them

The most popular and without a doubt most versatile preparation for beets is to fry them. Some people fry and then remove the skin, others use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin before frying. If they are grown organically, you can scrub them well and keep the skin on if you choose! Roasted beets are a great accompaniment, salad topping and snack option. Added to any dish, they make it a meal. This recipe explains how to store and cook beets with vegetables attached.

Eat them raw

Beetroot can be completely enjoyed raw. Choose firmer beets, and cut them into thin slices, grate or spiral them so that they are included as toppings for salads, tacos, wraps and whatever you like. This recipe uses a spiralizer to make long strips of beets topped with an easy ginger sesame dressing.


Stir at Craigardan, located in Elizabethtown, NY by Jeff Mertz

Where to buy locally

Wherever local vegetables are sold near you! Find farmers markets, local food retail outlets and farmstands open in the winter at AdirondackHarvest.com.

Do you enjoy beets? Comment below and tell us.

Mary Godnick

Mary Godnick is the digital editor of the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County. She lives in the Champlain Valley, where she grows vegetables on a cooperative farm with her partner and two rescue dogs. You can read more about her work at AdirondackHarvest.com and follow her on Twitter at @MaryGodnick.

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