my homegrown beetsI don’t know why I never grew beets before. Well actually, I do know why I haven’t grown beets before. I’m married to an Englishman who was so traumatized by poorly cooked beets in a British boarding school he was on the verge of threatening divorce if I so much as let a beet darken our doorstep. Do you know what kind of schism this can cause in a marriage when the other partner is of Polish extraction? Beets are my Soul Food. Which probably leads to the other reason I’ve never tried to grow beets. Growing beets makes me think of that scene in Dr. Zhivago where he’s starving and devouring a raw beet he’s just torn from Siberian permafrost. Or maybe I’m getting confused with Scarlett O’Hara waving that turnip over her head and saying “As God is my witness…”. In any case, I thought you had to be in Minnesota or Calgary or Lithuania to grow beets.

Turns out beets can grow quite happily in Sonoma. You grow them big starting in Fall through the Winter. The Spring ones, you plant early and pull up as little golfball-sized baby beets before it gets too far into Summer. But lest you think I’m gardening according to any known methodology or knowledge of botany, let me cop to the fact that my current beet crop has been a complete fluke. I bought a packet of beet seeds a year or two ago and never figured out when to plant them. When I noticed they were past their expiration date, I just scattered them throughout a bed I was planning to dig up a little later in the season. I’m not sure what I was thinking. Something between perhaps feeding the birds and some sort of Darwinian experiment to test the lifespan of seeds. But imagine my surprise when I suddenly had a whole crop of beets.

I’ve been enjoying the beet greens in salads and not expecting too much from the beets. Somehow, I had the impression that hot weather would turn them tough. Then while John the Baptist and I were discussing the garden, we pulled up a few and ate them raw right on the spot. What a revelation! They were tender and crisp and not at all “dirt tasting” (which is the common complaint of non-beet lovers.) I decided to see what developed. What developed are lovely little baby beets — about 1-1/2″ in diameter and needing only the slightest braising in a sliver of butter to be tender and sweet. Even though we’re having weeks that are spiking in the 80s and 90s, they seem to be retaining their gentle nature.

Now I’m wishing I’d grown a whole bed of them. Well, there’s always Fall planting. For now, they are going in salads and perhaps in a Beet and Orange Relish recipe I’ve just found. That may be my first canning venture of the season.

the one mile dinner!

Here are my lightly braised beets served with local butter lettuce dressed with our own verjus and olive oil, goat cheese from Laura Chenel, bread from Sonoma's Basque Bakery, calamari from Bodega Bay and Chardonnay from the winery down the road.

And no, there isn’t a Come to Jesus Beet Conversion ending to this story. Andy is still threatening divorce if he finds a beet on his plate. However a few surreptitious feelers put out on Facebook quickly identified fellow Beet Lovers in my zip code. I’ll be handing off the Red Gold in quiet back alleys around San Francisco.

You’ll recognize me and my brethren. We’re the ones with red stained hands.

scarlett o'hara

As God is my witness, I'll never not have homegrown beets again!

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