In Praise of the Beet

In Praise of the Beet

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Dana Velden
Aug 30, 2015
(Image credit: Dana Velden)

“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." — Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

Beets are indeed deadly serious, or at least they're intense, concentrated, rich in color, and unmistakable in their boldness. They can taste unbelievably sweet or like dirt. If the latter is your experience and you don't find it to your liking, sweeten them with honey or balsamic, or pickle them in vinegar and garlic and dill. The beet is a robust ingredient and must be met with equally muscular flavors.

I used to hate (hate, hate, hate!) beets, but now I love them, and just as passionately. Whenever I think I'm absolutely convinced of something, I remember my relationship to beets and I am immediately set straight: If I can learn to love beets, then anything in this wide, green world is possible. How wonderful to be able to change your mind! What freedom!

But even beyond personal likes and dislikes, it is clear that the lowly, lumpy, dirt-clad beet was transformed into a sensuous muse for author Tom Robbins when he wrote Jitterbug Perfume way back in the 1980s. I find his fascination and delight in this unlikely object very inspiring, and wonder what other vegetable is worthy of such attentive transformation. The potato, perhaps? Or the cardoon? Or maybe the answer is that any vegetable, any ingredient, can become seductive if we choose to focus our attention on it, if we release our preconceived ideas of its desirability and look closely at what it is offering us.

The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies. — Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

What ingredient inspires you? Are the tomatoes and corn and zucchini of late summer guiding your kitchen? What lusty prose can you conjure up when contemplating a Charentias melon or a clutch of Romano beans? How willing are you to change your mind and discover something wild and bold and deeply sensuous hidden beneath a drab exterior, a rough texture? Where are the rubies hiding in your kitchen today?

Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
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