17 Mar 2012
The Choicest of Beetroot
During the week I found time to get my red onion sets in and, in so doing, had to clear this last beetroot from the ground. It was a tiny seedling that had not grown last summer through lack of space - most beetroot "seeds" are a cluster of tiny seeds and need to be thinned although, in this case, the overcrowding was entirely my fault in being rather enthusiastic when seed sowing. Monty Don recommends sowing beetroot in modules but I find it easier just to direct sow into the ground and have never had a problem with that method. This beet was not thinned but allowed to grow on as the surrounding beets were lifted and left in the ground over winter. In a mild winter, providing you don't need the space, I've found that beets sown in the autumn will over winter very successfully and the small roots will be a welcome taste in early spring.
A couple of years ago I didn't even like beetroot. Growing my own and experimenting with uses soon sorted that out. (Beetroot, parsnip and horseradish soup is a particular favourite.) Last year I experimented with growing different varieties of beetroot: Chioggia, Perfect 3 and this beauty which is Cheltenham Green Tops. I first ate this as a starter course during lunch at Fortnums. It was served with a goat's cheese and rocket salad, all beautifully dressed, of course, and so delicious that I sought out the seeds for growing last year.
I found that it was fairly slow to bulb up (compared to Perfect 3) but the young leaves are a delicious addition to any salad. I tend to pull my beetroot when its bulbs are about 4 cm diameter, although slightly larger is still okay and smaller is even better! Leaves pulled off the top will resprout, like a cut and come again salad. Because I first saw Cheltenham beetroot in its cooked state, I hadn't realised that it was a cylindrical beetroot until I pulled up this one. All the others were pulled young so were chubby ovals rather than long.
There are a number of ways of cooking beetroot; very young beets can be thinly sliced or grated and eaten raw; unpeeled beets can be washed and boiled, leaving the root intact and twisting the leaves off close to the root - this stops the root bleeding out; or, best of all, they can be roasted which brings out all the sweetness of the veg. I've also grated beetroot into cake mix - chocolate beetroot cake is dark and moist although personally I'm not overfond of chocolate cake. This root will be chunked up and roasted, yum!
If you like beetroot, it's worth successional sowing to avoid having a glut. In my opinion it's also worth experimenting with different varieties. This month I'm sowing a new choice, Merlin, and Cheltenham Green Tops; then, in April, will sow a row of Perfect 3 (still my favourite). Chioggia is not going to feature this year - it doesn't cook well, losing all its colour, and I don't like the taste. Bolthardy is another recommended variety which I've tried and dislike. I found the taste rather insipid and, as what I grow is all about getting the best flavour from my veg, you won't find Bolthardy in my veg patch either.
If you're interested in growing Cheltenham Green Tops, I bought my seeds from Garden by Mail although they're also now available from More Veg. My Merlin seeds came from More Veg and I pick up Perfect 3 in Morrisons. I think it's interesting that there are so many varieties available now; a few years ago the choice was a lot more limited. Just shows how the upsurge of interest in food growing is driving the market - and not before time!
It's forecast to rain this weekend but I hope that I'll still be able to sow a few seeds. Happy weekend everyone!