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!

14 comments:

  1. I'm with you on the direct sowing - seems too much hassle to sow in modules and transfer! We are not particularly adventurous when it comes to beetroot - we just pickle it and store it for salads throughout the year. I did try roasting it once which was very tasty! Hope you have a lovely weekend and get your beetroot sown!

    Philippa

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    1. Ah pickling, that's the one thing I haven't yet done with my beetroot as it gets eaten too quickly! In the winter I enjoy the juniper pickled beetroot from Morrisons so I should learn how to do this!

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  2. I'd never tried beetroot other than pickled in a jar before I grew my own, now I love it roasted. It does go very well with goats cheese, I've had it this way as a starter in restaurants.

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    1. Jo, me too which is probably why I loathed it - too much tangy pickled beetroot forced on me at school! I started experimenting with beetroot recipes in order to grow to love it - it worked rather well!

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  3. Fantastic roasted and so easy, a quick scrub and cut into quarters and chucked in the tray. Got to be one of the best veg I think.

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    1. Damo, I completely agree. It's the one veg I'd make space for over all others. Rather pleased I'm the only one in the house that likes oven roasted beetroot, more for me!

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  4. Like you, I would much rather sow direct, saves an awful lot of fiddling! Hadn't realised that beetroot could be sown in the autumn to grow over winter, must try that this year, thanks!

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    1. I'm not sure that it's a recommended way of doing things but in our first year we sowed beetroot seeds in mid-August. They were just big enough to harvest a few before the first frosts so I left them in the ground. Come the spring time, most of them were still edible. I've read that beetroot and carrot can both be left in the ground over winter and cope very well with low temperatures (as long as slugs and pests don't get them!).

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  5. Have vowed to do more direct sowing this year. Read your post with interest Caro. Funnily enough I am growing Chioggia and Boltardy both for the first time - wonder if I should be doing so now :) The former because I am half Italian and the latter because I have read that it makes for a good early crop but I have one or two others up my sleeve just in case. Like the sound of Cheltenham Green Tops - off to find out more.

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    1. Anna, I have a friend whose shop specialises in Italian food and he swears by Chioggia - he slices the raw root with his meat slicer so it's very thin, then eats with a dressing and salad. I tried it this way but don't like the taste - it sort of 'grabs' at the back of my throat! Would love to know how you get on, it's certainly a spectacularly pretty beetroot. Interestingly, I met a fellow gardener at the weekend who also dismissed Bolthardy as being bland - but don't let me sway you, give it a whirl!

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  6. Interesting post! I sow direct and I'm growing the red one Detroit and Golden which is sweeter.
    My plot neighbour leaves beetroot and carrot in the ground over the winter but most people don't.
    I hope that you had a good weekend despite Saturday being wet. xx

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  7. Thank you, Flighty. Interesting that Golden is sweeter - is that Burpee's Golden? I'm not sure how I feel about golden beetroot - I'm very used to the red colour! And, yes, thank you I had a very good weekend - see next post!! (Impulse buying!) xx

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  8. This post has made me hungry! I also have over-wintered beetroot. I will use the leaves in salads for a while until my newly sown salad comes up.

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    1. A woman after my own heart, Lorna! I love the taste of beetroot and often keep a pot of beets in the fridge as my go to snack. I'm convinced that a meal of beetroot will knock a cold on its head - maybe I read that somewhere? Anyway, it works for me! The baby leaves are delicious in salad aren't they?

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Caro x

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