Beetroot is one of those foods which is a strange combination of fashionable and unfashionable, Australian and yet foreign, highly nutritious and yet undervalued. In essence beetroot is a dichotomy.
In Australia beetroot is used traditionally in both our ‘burgers with the lot’ and the ‘salad sandwich’ and yet is rarely found elsewhere (the exception being Middle Eastern dips). It is often included in lists of ‘superfoods’, yet people roll their eyes at its very mention. I guess because it is associated with burgers and sandwiches it isn’t particularly trendy hence its unfashionable status. Although as I type I’m thinking that; actually I have seen it on menus recently so perhaps it is about to have something of a renaissance.
Personally I have always valued beetroot. I love salad sandwiches – a peculiarly Australian culinary classic that involves sliced tomato and cucumber, grated carrot, lettuce, alfalfa and slices of pickled beetroot being placed between white bread which in my opinion should only ever be spread with mayonnaise (rather than butter). Some places add cheese but I just think that is plain wrong. My high school canteen had five lunch time offerings: Pie, Sausage roll, Dim Sims (steamed), Ham and Salad roll, or Salad sandwich. As I spent a number of my high school years as a vegetarian you can imagine which one I chose practically every day (my mum got bored with packing my lunch quite early on….). Incidentally in case any one is wondering: yes the beetroot does turn the bread a particularly odd shade of pink.
Anyway, in my adult years I have moved on from only eating tinned beetroot in white bread (although I do still enjoy a salad sandwich from time to time…). These days I grow my own and am more likely to eat it fresh (both raw and cooked) than pickled.
The variety that I most like to grow is called “Cylindrica”. Cylindrica produces long cylindrical roots making them really easy to slice or dice. Basically it is a lot easier to cook with than the more traditional round shape (although perhaps not as pretty). Cylindrica beets have deep red flesh and a traditional ‘beetrooty’ taste; earthy and not too sweet, especially compared with the lighter coloured varieties.
I grow my beetroot from seed which I sow in punnets and then pot up when the seedlings have two true leaves. I try to pot up the seedlings relatively young as beetroot doesn’t really like having its roots disturbed but I find growing it in pots initially more convenient than sowing direct. Despite is reputation for not liking spending time in pots I find that most of my seedlings grow on just fine.
The big advantage of growing beetroot in pots is that they can then be slotted into gaps really easily, and as they are fairly small plants (even when full grown) they can be hugely useful, when space is limited, when used in this way.
I find you can sow beetroot seed generally, and cylindrica in particular, all year round in Melbourne. The plants growth rate varies from season to season, being slower in the cooler months, but they still grow reasonably well all year round. The plants do tend to bolt in Spring and can become woody if left in the ground too long, so plants grown over winter and into Spring will usually be harvested smaller than those grown at other times of the year.
I find that the variety doesn’t seem to have many issues. Pests are minimal although the chooks seem to like the leaves and occasionally the roots get nibbled by both slugs and rodents. Otherwise they are reliable and relatively fast growing plant which is really useful for interplanting with slower maturing crops.
Do you grow beetroot? Which variety do you favour?
Saturday Spotlight is a series of posts highlighting particular varieties of edible plants. If you have a favourite, or even a less than successful variety of a plant and would like to include it in the series then please leave a comment with a link below. I have created a page (above, just below the header) with an Index of all the Spotlights to date. I will add links to any new posts below and in next weeks post as well as ensuring they appear in the Index.
New Spotlights last week were:
Extra Precoce Violetto Fava Beans – From Seed to Table
Apache Blackberry – Our Happy Acres
Capsicums – Home Sweet Kitchen Garden
and from this week:
Verde da Taglio Chard – Our Happy Acres
Watercress – From Seed to Table