Don’t even think about feeding me a beet. It’s not going to happen.
Tom Robbins is a favorite author of mine. Tom thought highly of beets. Let me just quote him for a moment:
The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins
Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets.
The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip…
Yes, Tom thought highly of beets.
So did my father, I think. Although I don’t remember ever seeing him eat a beet before that fateful summer. He may have initially planted them for my mother who liked pickled beets. Which are, arguably, the worst of all the beets.
We were living in Waukesha, a sleepy little town just outside of Milwaukee. We had a big backyard. My father decided to garden. Gardening was in his genes and as it turned out, he was a master gardener without ever having taken a lesson.
That first year, God only knows why, Daddy seeded beets. Two packages of beets. That Wisconsin spring and summer sported the perfect conditions for beet cultivation. Every one of those seeds germinated and grew thus producing a bumper crop of beets. So, in addition to tomatoes and potatoes and radishes, we had beets.
We had beets everywhere.
I mean flipping everywhere. There were beets in brown grocery sacks, beets in cardboard boxes, beets in laundry baskets and large Tupperware bowls, on the counter rolling around. Beets in the kitchen, beets in the dining room, beets in the hallway, beets on the porch, beets on the patio, and even beets in a bag on the child-sized rocking chair in the living room. Everywhere.
I didn’t find our beets melancholy. I found them slapstick comedic and I detest slapstick. But perhaps like most good comedians, there was a dark side.
We cleaned beets until there was red, sticky juice everywhere. My hands were stained, the white porcelain sink was stained, the Tupperware, the newspaper we put down to protect surfaces. Beet juice dripped on the floor, it was in my hair, on my jeans, it was everywhere.
Beets were a family affair. We were all drafted.
My dad did most of the cooking and canning. We canned beets, we baked them, we fried them, we pureed them, we added them to stew, we made beet chili, we had beets with pork chops and roast, hamburger casseroles, and fried chickens. I think we had beet nut bread. I balked when they wanted me to put beets on my sacred tacos.
No. No. And no.
It was confession time. I hadn’t been fond of them to begin with and after eating them every way possible (juiced, flambeed, and broiled as well), I decided I loathed beets.
I spent one whole summer of my youth messing around with beets. I still regret losing that time. We are only young once.
We had pounds and pounds of beets. They weren’t trendy with the haute cuisine crowd at that time, so most folks were indifferent. They certainly didn’t want laundry baskets full of beets.
People began to hide from us.
Like the jokes about zucchini, we threatened to put them on porches during the dead of night and in unlocked cars.
Thankfully my father discovered composting what with being in tune with organic gardening and all. Beets were great in the compost pile. Their proper home.
I am still stained by the beet debacle. I will not eat them. My son is a fine dining chef. He tries to slip me a roasted beet now and again. I am polite and roll it about my plate a bit. He either is determined to convert me or doesn’t remember the story of The Great Beet Adventure of 1981 followed by the Cooking School Road Trip of 2003.
Ah, yes. The Cooking School Road Trip of 2003. I took my son to New York to explore cooking schools. We ended up in Manhattan. We were in some famous hole-in-the-wall coffee shop made popular by employees of the New Your Times. Or maybe NBC. Russian owned. Borsht was the house specialty.
We are adventurous eaters my son and I.
We ordered it.
Gack. Spit. Choke. Cold beet soup with sour cream. You have to be born to this stuff. I still remember the waiter in his thick Russian accent asking if something was wrong. No. No. We each ate tiny slurps of borscht from our soup spoons until we just couldn’t be polite any longer. We pushed it away. And ordered really kick-ass sandwiches.
I think the kid blocked this out of his culinary memory because he purports to like beets and keeps forgetting I don’t.
Now to misquote Dr. Seuss:
I will not eat them on my plate.
I will not eat them on a date.
I will not eat them in New York.
I will not eat them with a fork.
I will not eat beets here or there.
I will not eat beets anywhere!-CK