Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Plant Corner - The common beetroot

The common beetroot is one of my favourite vegetables. Although it is often pickled with strong vinegar, when you try it freshly boiled you will find it is much more subtle than you think, and both very tasty and delicious.

Where did beetroot come from?

Beetroot derives from the common sea beet, and still shares many of the same characteristics. This makes it quite a hardy biennial flower, which is rarely grown to that point. Instead, people tend to crop it when the root reaches one or more inches wide.

What does the Beetroot require?

Like all beets, beetroot tends to prefer sandy and light soil, but it will work all right with heavy soil that is well dug with lots of loam. Because beetroot is a root crop you will obviously try to remove as many stones as possible while cultivating it.

 This crop needs little but regular watering.  It should not be allowed to dry out for too long. If they have irregular watering this can cause the root to split. 

The spacing between beets depends how large you want the beetroot to grow. Personally I prefer to grow them an inch wide, rather than to full maturity, and so sow each beet half an inch apart. 

Whatever thickness of beetroot you chose, when sowing, you will probably do so quite thickly. Then you will thin them out to give them room to grow. Nothing is wasted, you can use the new leafs of the thinning as the basis of a salad.

Don’t forget to net the beetroot to protect it from birds.

Harvesting beetroot

You can start harvesting beetroot when the root is 1 inch wide, in which case you will get baby beets. If you wait longer, the beetroot will reach 3 inches or more wide, at which point you can pull them up and store them. Or you could simply leave them in the ground for a main crop beetroot. These beetroots will store for a long time, but aren’t as tender or as pleasant to eat.

When lifting beetroot do it gently, and cut the leaves of a few inches above the root.

The traditional way of storing main crop beetroot was either a clamp, if you wanted to keep them for three months or a pickle if you wanted to keep them for longer.

YouTube has detailed information on how to pickle beetroot.

If you don’t want to store them, you can boil them for a short while in boiling water. You don’t need to remove the skin before cooking, instead just clean it gently under the tap. Just like carrot, you stop cooking them when they are slightly soft.

Beetroot pests.

The biggest pests with beetroot are birds, which will eat the new flowers, mangold flys, cut worm, Rust, Aphids and Moths. A vegetable growing book will give you the full detail of what you can do to prevent these problems. I will also go into it in more detail latter on. 

Uses of beetroot.

There are several obvious uses of beetroot, the most traditional of these is as a food ingredient. Both the leaves and the root can be eaten raw or cooked. If you want a delicious salad, combining beetroot leaves with lettuce and a few dandelion or hawthorn leaves, plus clover flowers and borage flowers will give you something extraordinary. Of course, you can replace this with a beetroot salad made from grated carrot and cooked beetroot grated into a bed of lettuce leaves and beetroot leaves.

When eating the leaves of beetroot, I suggest using only immature, young leaves, since the older ones get quite tough.

Beetroot is traditionally eaten as a pickle during the winter, but is delicious roasted and boiled too. It is a common ingredient in diet chocolate cakes. The reason for this is the sweetness of the beetroot complements chocolate very well.

In fact, that sweetness made it a very common ingredient in British food during the Second World War, and many of these recipes are being revived because they are very healthy for you, and will help you lose weight.
There are additional uses for beetroot that many people don’t know about. Beetroot is one of the oldest dies available, providing a very strong brown colour that can be set using a variety of natural methods including boiling the cloth in salt.

A very old recipe for encaustic die used beetroot to provide a brown wax die, although it is very unusual to use that any more since synthetic dies that don’t fade as fast are now inexpensive.

Beetroot is a useful ingredient for people with Anaemia since it contains a lot of iron, and was traditionally offered as a herbal remedy to purify blood. It was used for people with liver and spleen problems, and still has some medical uses. There has been research that shows beetroot can lower blood pressure. In addition, beetroot has been used as part of the basis for lip balm in Victorian recipes.

No comments:

Post a Comment