Beetroot’s popularity owes something to the ease it grows in almost any soil
- Credit: Archant
This is the time of year when us gardeners are at our most vigilant.
Many of us, the sensible ones, are holding back with our seed packets while repeatedly reminding ourselves that sometimes it snows in April.
This year, I wouldn’t bet against an icing sugar dusting over the allotment and garden even in May.
Some of us have already sown seed only to regret it after yet another sheet of frost over the windscreen in recent weeks.
Being an impetuous type, this behaviour from the weather Gods catches me out every year. The seed companies must love me and I can never wait long enough.
While kicking around the allotment dressed in several layers of fleece and rueing yet another early sowing, my eye was drawn to the resilient vegetables that had determinedly made it through this elongated and somewhat intermittent winter.
The familiar faces were there, parsnips, cavalo nero, purple sprouting broccoli and, of course, beetroot.
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I see beetroot at the glamorous, charismatic older sibling of the beet family. It even has a chic Italian variety in Chioggia which when cut in half exposes a pattern like a barber’s pole. Red and white circles repeated like a stick of Paignton rock.
The beetroot could never be mocked or disrespected in the same way its cousin the turnip was in Blackadder.
Like the potato, it has sustained populations and is a staple in Eastern Europe.
A friend of mine who is Polish grows them in his flower beds almost habitually or subconsciously even.
They don t look out of place alternated among the pansies and petunias with their crimson veined leaves adding colour and foliage.
Similar to the potato, beetroot’s popularity owes something to the ease it grows in almost any soil.
It might appear over the top to be celebrating a vegetable that has become synonymous with being pickled and maybe deemed as unfashionable as the salad cream it bleeds into, only coming out on Bonfire Night or over Christmas.
I would argue with the latter having seen it on Michelin-starred menus in candied cubed form or made into chocolate brownies.
A soup topped with horseradish cream is easy and a colourful and uplifting starter in mid winter.
The most reliable variety is without doubt Boltardy. They will easily last until the following spring and wait loyally through all weathers, shoulders above the ground, waiting until you are ready to pick them.
They can be sweet when picked at the size of a golf ball or earthy and I think, slightly perfumed when left to grow as big as its habitat will allow.
I can t describe the taste at this point other than to relate it to a mild whiff of incense, possibly emerging from behind a thick cloak of purple velvet.
Some I have neglected until they just need gently pushing over before adding them to a muddy pile awaiting the roasting tin. No digging required.
Beetroot seeds are large enough to handle individually and their ridged and knarled appearance makes them fascinating to children.
They are quick to germinate in rows covered lightly with soil. Given they are not stubborn in germination like the precocious parsnip can be, they are also ideal to indoctrinate children into the fascination of growing from seed.
The leaves can add sophistication to salads if cut when young, but leave at least half on the globe to help with the root formation.
In fact, an average packet of seeds can keep you in beetroot and baby salad leaves for around three years of you're careful.
Beetroot juice is often used as a colouring in jelly sweets which is as near as some children might get to their five a day.
I did attempt to juice beetroot in the juicer but soon realised I looked like an extra from a Tarantino movie, not to mention the kitchen walls.