I am not insulted by being called a creature of habit. I love traditions and routine. Combine a predictable routine with comfort foods and I am in my happy place.
Growing up, that happy place was my grandma’s tiny dining room on Sunday afternoons. I could predict the meal without fail. She rotated between serving egg noodles she made from scratch and a slow-cooked roast with carrots and potatoes.
The main dish alternated but the sides never varied. She served an iceberg salad, homemade applesauce and the indisputable family favorite, pickled beets. There were actual wars slated between cousins over who would get one of the pickled eggs nestled in among the beets in the jar. I was an outsider on those disputes. I was very content bypassing the eggs and scooping the remaining purple beets onto my salad.
My mom and grandma canned pickled beets every fall, deep purple Mason jars lining the shelves in the basement. Most of the time when my mom was cooking my favorite foods, I was drawn into her kitchen by their tantalizing aromas. I would lurk nearby hoping to get the first taste of a discarded morsel.
That is definitely not true for beets. They smelled horrid during the canning process. A deep inhale, possibly the result of dare, would launch a tingling sensation that started in the nasal area and then traveled to the base of one’s skull.
They always used a dark purplish red variety for their canned beets. When planting our garden this year, we chose Detroit Dark Red beets with intentions of pickling and canning the dark purple beetroot.
Beets can be prepared in many different ways and even eaten raw in a salad. While grating or a thin slicing makes them easily eaten in a salad or as a garnish for soup, I prefer them pickled or even roasted. It’s not only the beetroot that is a tasty treat, the greens and the stems are edible as well.
There are many health benefits associated with consuming these gems of the root vegetable world. Beets are naturally low in calories and high in fiber, a great combination for weight loss. They are also mineral dense containing potassium, magnesium and manganese. Recently, they have been linked to greater cardiovascular health and can be beneficial for everyone but especially for endurance athletes like runners and cyclists.
About eight years ago, my husband was researching nutrition in an attempt to improve his performance in marathon running. He was looking for an answer to why he would feel like he had an empty tank during the last miles of a marathon even though he had adequately trained. What he found was a few articles suggesting the consumption of beets or beet juice improves endurance.
The specific reason behind this is because beets contain inorganic nitrates which are converted to nitric oxide in the body. This translates to increased blood flow and more oxygen being delivered to muscles.
He made a few mistakes in the preparation of his beet juice mixture. The texture was so chunky that I couldn’t manage to swallow it even if I pictured a milkshake in my head. However, he carried on with his experiment and truly felt like he benefited from consuming beets.
Fast forward to 2020, and beet juice is being sold in many grocery stores across the country. Nutritionists are encouraging people to consume beets and beet juice to possibly lower blood pressure along with all the other health benefits.
When I was canning our beets, I hesitated to add the traditional amount of sugar to the brine. My mom and grandma used a recipe that had equal parts water, sugar, and vinegar. I couldn’t help but think that adding two cups of sugar would negate all the wonderful health benefits.
I decided to experiment by using two tablespoons of honey instead of sugar. This resulted in the same rich beet flavor but a tangy tartness replaced the sweetness of sugar. I love that some traditions are adaptable, but still remain comforting.
I think adaptability and the implementation of small changes is what makes it possible for traditions to be passed down to future generations. Now that the beets are done, it’s time to make homemade applesauce — hold the sugar.
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