I’ve made my first loaf of bread in my new kitchen – a nice half-rye loaf with a fermented starter – so I guess my house is truly a home. And now that bread is knocked off the list, I can get on with some other cooking experiments in earnest!
Right now, I have one housemate. His name is Seth. He’s moving out in a couple of weeks and then I’ll have a different housemate, but for now it’s me and Seth, and we get along great.
Because Seth is moving soon, he’s pretty busy. And because he’s going to Squamish, British Columbia later this summer, he’s climbing a lot to get in shape. For the last five days he’s been gone on a climbing trip, so I’ve had the house to myself. When he left, he urged me to eat the beets in the refrigerator and the insane amount of lettuce that his girlfriend’s roommate had given us as she tried to harvest her overflowing garden. I was also given the chance to pick up his CSA share, which turned out to be really fun. He has a small share, just four items, but the place had probably ten different kinds of produce to pick from, so I tried to pick what I thought Seth would like as well as a treat for me: rhubarb, which I’ll hopefully be making into a pie sometime soon.
The beets made me hesitate though. I love beets. I love love love them. Since I was very small, when it was unusual for people my age to like beets, I liked beets. I was ecstatic that I was being given the beets. But I also felt bad eating them all. I mean, they were nice beets, and they were Seth’s, and I don’t know him that well yet, so why should I just eat all his beets? The lettuce was different, because it would start to wilt and get slimy if I didn’t have a salad every night. But the beets…
So eventually, I decided to pickle them. That way, they would be incredibly delicious but we’d all be able to enjoy them.
Funny enough, I didn’t use to like pickled beets. I liked them cooked, warm and sweet. But when I got to college and started eating from the salad bar, I discovered that the pickled beets were a good addition to a salad and provided some much-needed color. When I got to Craftsbury, the beets in the salad bar were often pickled in the kitchen itself rather than coming from a food service can. My appreciation of pickled beets quadrupled. They could be really good, and weren’t just a semi-lame way to preserve a favorite vegetable.
I found this recipe in The Scandinavian Cookbook, a gorgeous book which was given to me for Christmas by a family member. Despite being a committed Scandophile, the only recipe I’d made so far was one for cardamom rolls (they were good!). The pickles are great, and easy to make. The recipe says to let them sit for a week before opening them up, but did I sneak a slice after three days? Yes. And was it pickly delicious? Yes. Perhaps the reason that I had previously disliked pickled beets was that they were one-dimensional; this recipe adds in pepper and anise, and gives them a much more interesting, and yummy, flavor.
Besides salads or just eating with a fork, pickled beets are great for other things as well. I made a quasi-smørrebrød with sliced cucumbers, pickled beets, and a fried egg on top of toasted rye bread. Highly recommended.
Adapted from The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann
7 or 8 medium-sized beets
2 cups distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 star anise
1 tablespoon peppercorns or some freshly grated pepper
Start by peeling the beets, and then place them, whole or in halves, in a pot of salted water. The beets should be completely covered by the water. Boil until they are soft enough to eat, but not soft enough to be mushy. Next, make the pickling brine. Put the vinegar and sugars in a small saucepan and heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the anise and pepper and boil for a few minutes. Then remove from the burner and let the brine cool until the beets are done cooking. When they are, put them in a colander in the sink, run some cold water over them, and then, when they are cool enough to handle, cut into slices. You can experiment with what size the slices should be; I like them thin, but not too thin. You don’t want them to fall apart. As you cut the beets, put the slices in a pint-sized mason jar which has been sterilized. Once all the beets are in, pour the brine over the top. It should just fill the jar. Make sure the star anise is in there and if you ground the pepper, try to get it in there too. Put on the lid and let rest until you’re ready to enjoy your beets!