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
I love the look of these, perfect for chopping. I have had the winter woody variety which were OK pickled but not excellent, I’ve had plenty bolt as well. I’ll have to keep an eye out for this variety. I love the multicoloured heirloom sort too.
I struggled with the multi coloured mix – I really didn’t like the white ones much at all but the colours were fun.
Your beets look great! Unique shape. I planted some beets a few weeks ago after I decided to try making beet kvass, which I posted about a few weeks ago as well. I don’t really like beets, but I would love to have them in my diet if I can find ways to enjoy them! So nutritious! I planted bulls blood and chioggia.
I will have to look for your beet kvass post – very intrigued.
I have to say I am still learning to love beets. I do like them pickled. And I have to admit I liked them on an Aussie burger. I’m not sure about that salad sandwich though. But then again I was often fed fried bologna when I was young, and the salad sandwich is way healthier. I do like the idea of starting the beets in pots. That proves that the ‘conventional wisdom’ isn’t always true!
I do think there’s a part of me that starts them in pots purely to prove conventional wisdom wrong….
Blimey, Liz you are taking the veg gardener’s blog to new heights! I mean, “dichotomy” and “renaissance” both in the same post! 🙂
Anyway, when it comes to beetroot, I favour the “old-fashioned” round red types. I usually grow the old faithful “Boltardy”, but also some of the more modern types, for instance the various “Detroit” cultivars. I tried a yellow one called “Burpees Golden” but found it rather insipid and not very vigorous. I don’t fancy the stripey “Chioggia” one. Somehow it seems wrong. To me Beetroot should be red!
I suspect I’d had a glass of wine or two – alcohol tends to make me a little verbose. I like the Detroit cultivars too – Detroit Dark Red usually does well for me. I absolutely agree about the beetroot being red principle.
I’ve got half a flat of paper pots sown with four varieties of beets at the moment, they ought to be ready to plant out in a week or so. My favorite Golden beet (not Burpee’s), Chioggia, Baby Ball and Red Baron are in the current mix. The Aussie burger and salad sandwich are not items that are offered here in California, but it seems that almost any decent restaurant (at least locally) has a beet salad on the menu, usually paired with goat cheese. I keep thinking that I need to try grating a raw beet into one of my salads, but the thought of that red bleeding all through the salad keeps putting me off. 🙂
I’m planning on putting another Saturday Spotlight post up today, but there’s a BIG pile of fresh dirt in my driveway that needs to be moved into my new garden bed and it’s supposed to be quite warm today and I’ve procrastinated enough already…
The bleeding thing is a little annoying but the flavour is worth it I think. I do tend to use it as the main ingredient though rather than coating a whole range of salad ingredients with red.
I’ve used it as a vegetable cooked with apple and onions.
I like it that way too Sue.
I’ve not tried ‘Cylindrica’ yet – I tend to stick to ‘Boltardy’ and ‘Chioggia’, but even then I don’t grow much because (as yet) I can only get one other member of the family to eat beetroot with me. I did try making beetroot chocolate brownies last year, which even my daughter liked… until she found out what the ‘secret’ ingredient was.
My kids’ passion (that is a huge overstatement) for beetroot ebbs and flows but my partner actually likes it and he isn’t a huge veggie fan.
I’ve never seen that type of beetroot before! I love beetroot and will eat it every way, all year round.
We never had canned beetroot in my house as a kid. I think it had something to do with the jokes about what a mess my grandfather would make eating it, that probably put my mum off of it! But I love it now. My favourite are the Chioggias, they just look so amazing in salads and pickles. But I haven’t tried the Cylindrica, I must look out for it. (By the way, I planted some Watermelon Radish today after your recommendation last week.)
I hope you enjoy them – they are a bit slower than other radish varieties and they taste a little different but they look just beautiful when cut on the plate.
Great post! I’ve never grown cylindrica but have grown many other types, including the golden beetroots which I like for their flavour as much as the fact they don’t turn everything purple. I am with you on the absolute necessity of including beetroot in a salad sandwich (also in hamburgers, but that’s another story), and I also love grated raw beetroot salads. Yum.
Absolutely agree on the food side except I’m not entirely sure about the merits of golden beetroot – I think my tastebuds are too tied to the red to really appreciate them.
A day late, but I finally got it done, my Saturday Spotlight post is up. Thanks for hosting this Liz, I keep learning about such interesting things to grow!
I will have to give this variety a go!
It is most interesting to read about how people eat beet! Here in North America, one of the most traditional ways to serve them is Harvard Beets (they are boiled and then served in a sweet sauce). Served like this, they are too sweet for my taste. My favorite way to eat them is to pick them when they are very young (when the root is still small). You quickly boil them (the whole plant – mostly green leaves) or stir-fry them then you cover them with sour cream and eat them. Don’t mix the sour cream as it becomes pink and less appetizing.
Last year I grew a cylindrical beets like yours and liked them a lot (it was an other cultivar though). This year I am trying Chioggia.
I’d be interested to know how you find the Chioggia. Personally I loved them colour and pattern but didn’t enjoy them as much flavour wise. They grew fine though.
I love beetroot – roasted, in soups, salads in chocolate cake to add sweet moistness and just cooked & sliced in sandwiches with egg or cheese. I can’t wait for this years beetroots to grow, but am still using the leaves of last years lingering beetroots (the ones that didn’t grow enough in time) in salads & cooked like spinach. Haven’t tried growing this variety and I’ve always direct sowed them. Really interested to hear that they transplant happily when little, must try this as it’s always handy to have plants ready to fill in the gaps.
I haven’t made beetroot soups very often and really should more as I always enjoy them when I do get round to making them.
Love your beets… I am quite a failure when it comes to growing beets… don’t know why, but am not giving up as yet…
They grow well here which is nice. I don’t do anything special with them so perhaps it is a climate thing.
Glad to know that the cylindrica beetroot very adaptable in different kind of season. This one is good for dry season because of the long roots yeah.
The dark red ones definitely sweeter and nice for juicing.
Will love to join in the next Saturday Spotlight:
Have a great weekend.
I’ve never juiced a beetroot – I should really give it a try, I often see beetroot and apple juice for sale.