Finally had a little rain which will help the newly planted lettuces settle in nicely today.
I’m so proud. I finally made a homemade version of tinned tomatoes.
It has been a dream for a long time. I use tinned tomatoes from the shop so often and I was feeling very guilty. It is so easy to make at home, and yet I have never tried it!
Finally did it today, so I can cross that off my bucket list 😉
Garden is surviving – too many beans to pick 😦 Did not get a lot achieved this week as I ended up helping my mum fix the road (long story) and getting lost on a dog walk with my siblings and carrying a heavy beagle back to the car (long story).
Aren’t these peppers cute? The orange one is a plant donated by a friend of my mum’s so I had to take a picture for him.
And look at this giant onion!
So it is my birthday weekend coming up and to celebrate good old 23, my newest book is available free on Amazon for 3 days, so go check it out.
Picked our first red pepper today (we have had a couple of green ones already that have fallen off early). Time to celebrate with a new recipe…
This is a little sneak peak into my cookery book for using up surpluses of vegetables and fruit from the garden or market – which is getting closer to being ready…
Late Summer Fry
-2 large potatoes (or the equivalent as small potatoes), cut into chunks -1 medium sized courgette, sliced -4 broadbean pods, shelled -300g runner beans, sliced –Olive oil, for frying -1 large pepper, de-seeded and sliced -1 fennel bulb, diced
Bring three pans of water to the boil. In one, boil the potatoes until cooked, approximately 15 minutes. In another, boil the courgette and broadbeans, in the last, the runner beans. When cooked, drain and set to one side.
In a non-stick pan, heat the olive oil and add the sliced pepper and fennel. Over a high flame, fry until they start to brown. Add the boiled courgette and broadbeans, turning the flame down to a simmer. Stir them in. Remove from the heat – you want the courgette and broadbeans to only be slightly browned – and serve over potatoes and runner beans.
I had no idea until recently researching for a cooking book before trying it myself that parsley was good for getting rid of unwanted acne.
Parsley has been used for medicinal treatment for centuries, but has become just a herb we scatter on a dish to make it look fancy. We often reach for a shop bought bottle to wash or cure when we should really take a leaf out of our ancestors’ book and try simple homemade remedies.
Parsley contains a nice amount of antioxidants, which can help reduce the amount of free radicals (substances which may cause skin damage) in your body. Parsley contains beta carotene, which the body converts to Vitamin A, essential for speeding up the healing process of wounds and wrinkles. It provides antibacterial and anti fungal protection, especially when made into an essential oil. This herb is very rich in vitamin C, apparently great for brightening the skin and reducing blemishes. Vitamin C stimulates the production of collagen, which is the substance that keeps skin looking young and vital.
I was very pleased to find this evidence as we grow parsley in the veg garden. It gives the older, perhaps damaged or nibbled leaves that we do not necessarily want to choose to eat, a use.
This is my currant face wash at the moment which I would like to share. I mix the parsley with honey and apple cider vinegar, both well known ingredients for giving a kick-start to our health in a natural way.
If the apple cider vinegar is too strong for your skin, dilute it with 2tbsp water.
Parsley Face Wash
-1 handful of parsley leaves -1tsp honey -2tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
Tear the parsley into small pieces in a bowl.
Scrape a teaspoon of honey into the bowl before pouring in the apple cider vinegar. Mix well.
Using a make up wipe or cotton wool pad, smear the concoction all over your face, rubbing in well and trying to encourage the parsley leaves to stick to your flesh. Continue to rub in, paying particular attention to any spots, until all of the mixture has been used up.
Leave on your face for 5-10 minutes and then wash with warm water and apply a gentle moisturiser on afterwards. Repeat every three days for best results.
*If the mixture starts to irritate (sting, burn) your skin, rinse immediately.
Rosmarinus officinalis, commonly known as rosemary, is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves (similar to hemlock needles) and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae. The name “rosemary” derives from the Latin for “dew” (ros) and “sea” (marinus), or “dew of the sea” – how beautiful!
The plant is also sometimes called anthos from the ancient Greek word ἄνθος, meaning “flower”. Rosemary has a fibrous root system. It is native to the Mediterranean and Asia, but is reasonably hardy in cool climates. It can withstand droughts, surviving a severe lack of water for lengthy periods so perfect for the really sandy soil gardens. Forms range from upright to trailing; the upright forms can reach 1.5 m (5 ft) tall, rarely 2 m (6 ft 7 in). The leaves are evergreen, 2–4 cm (0.8–1.6 in) long and 2–5 mm broad, green above, and white below, with dense, short, woolly hair. The plant flowers in spring and summer in temperate climates, but the plants can be in constant bloom in warm climates; flowers are white, pink, purple or deep blue. Rosemary also has a tendency to flower outside its normal flowering season. It has been known to flower as late as early December, and as early as mid-February (in the northern hemisphere).
The Virgin Mary is said to have spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting, and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as the “Rose of Mary”. Rosemary was considered sacred to ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks.
In the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies. The bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary. Rosemary was often entwined into a wreath, dipped in scented water and worn by brides at the alter. The wreath symbolized fidelity, love, abiding friendship and remembrance of the life the woman had led prior to her marriage. The crowns and garlands of rosemary at weddings, in turn, led to the lays, or amorous ballads of the Troubadours, 1100 – 1350, referring to rosemary as “Coronary”. Anne of Cleves (1515 – 1557), Henry the Eighth’s 4th wife, wore a rosemary wreath at their wedding. At that time, wealthy bridal couples would also present a gilded branch of rosemary to each wedding guest. Robert Hacket, in a wedding sermon in 1607 said, “Let this Rosemarinus, this flower of men, ensigne of your wisdom, love and loyaltie, be carried not only in your hands, but in your heads and hearts.” Rosemary root was “seethed in wine vinegar” and the lotion was then used to wash the feet of a thief. The lotion was thought to sap the strength of the robber so that he would not longer commit robbery, steal or do any further harm. The Countess of Hainault, Jeanne of Valois (1294 – 1342), sent her daughter Queen Phillippa (1311 – 1369), wife of King Edward III of England (1312 – 1377), an accounting of the virtues of rosemary and it is presumed a number of plants or cuttings accompanied the gift. The original manuscript can be found in the British Museum. The Countess suggests that laying the leaves under the head of a man while he sleeps will “doth away evell sprirites and suffereth not the dreeme fowl dremes ne to be afearde.”
Bancke, in his work Herball from 1525, suggests techniques to use rosemary as a remedy for both gout of the legs and to keep the teeth from all evils. He also recommended that smelling rosemary regularly would “keep thee youngly”. Serapio suggested that a garland of rosemary worn about the head was a remedy for the “stuffing of the head, that commeth through coldnes of the brain”. He also says that rosemary grew so plentifully in Languedoc (a former province in south-eastern France) that “the inhabitants burne scarce anie other fuel”.
Rosemary was also believed to offer protection from the plague. In 1603, when bubonic plague killed 38,000 Londoners, the demand was so high that the price increased from one shilling for an armful of branches to six shillings for a handful. To put that price increase into perspective, one price list from 1625 indicated that one could obtain 18 gallons of good ale or double beer with carriage delivery for only 3 shillings or an entire ‘fat pig’ for 1 shilling.
Rosemary has long had a popular reputation for improving memory. The Guardian reported in 2017 that sales of Rosemary oil to students in the UK studying for exams had skyrocketed because of Rosemary’s perceived benefits to memory (that was the summer my mum started feeding my sister rosemary for her A-Level exams…). The plant has also been used as a symbol for remembrance during war commemorations and funerals in Europe and Australia. Mourners would throw it into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance” (Hamlet, iv. 5.). In Australia, sprigs of rosemary are worn on ANZAC Day to signify remembrance; the herb grows wild on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Rosemary history includes a number of references to its reputation for strengthening the memory and as a symbol for remembrance. Greek scholars were known to twine rosemary in their hair when studying for exams in the hope of aiding their memories. According to one old ballad:
“Rosemary is for remembrance
Between us day and night,
Wishing that I may always have
You present in my sight.”
Parkinson (1567-1650), the King’s Botanist to Charles I, mentions that in countries where rosemary was well-suited and grows to a large size that thin boards of rosemary were used to make lutes and other instruments, carpenters rules, and a myriad of other implements. The French believed that combing their hair once a day with a rosemary wood comb would prevent giddiness. Rosemary wood was so prized that unscrupulous merchants would often use less expensive woods and simply scent them with rosemary oil. In Spain, rosemary was used as a protection against witchcraft and menaces on the road. George Borrow mentioned how he came to learn about this superstition in his work The Bible in Spain (1843). He first mentions meeting a traveler who had adorned his hat with rosemary and later mentions a lady, who concerned for Borrow’s own safety, offered him some for his own hat.
In 1987, researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey patented a food preservative derived from rosemary. The chemical called rosmaridiphenol, is a very stable antioxidant useful in cosmetics and plastic food packaging.
Set out rosemary in spring, planting seedlings 2 to 3 feet apart. Plants are slow growing at first, but pick up speed in their second year. Feed with a good fertiliser and keep well watered. Mulch your plants to keep roots moist in summer and insulated in winter, but take care to keep mulch away from the crown of the plant. In the spring, prune dead wood out of the plants.
Since it is attractive and drought-tolerant, rosemary is used as an ornamental plant in gardens and for xeriscape landscaping, especially in regions of Mediterranean climate. It is considered easy to grow and pest-resistant. Rosemary can grow quite large and retain attractiveness for many years, can be pruned into formal shapes and low hedges, and has been used for topiary. It is easily grown in pots and the ground cover cultivars spread widely, with a dense texture. Rosemary grows on friable loam soil with good drainage in an open, sunny position. It will not withstand waterlogging and some varieties are susceptible to frost. It grows best in neutral to alkaline conditions (pH 7–7.8) with average fertility. It can be propagated from an existing plant by clipping a shoot (from a soft new growth) 10–15 cm (4–6 in) long, stripping a few leaves from the bottom, and planting it directly into soil.
Rosemary leaves are used as a flavoring in foods such as stuffing and roast lamb, pork, chicken and turkey. Fresh or dried leaves are used in traditional Mediterranean cuisine. They have a bitter, astringent taste and a characteristic aroma which complements many cooked foods. Herbal tea can be made from the leaves. When roasted with meats or vegetables, the leaves leave a mustard-like aroma with an additional fragrance of charred wood, compatible with barbecues.
Mum’s Herby Bread
-1tsp fast-action dried yeast -500g strong white bread flour -1tsp salt -1tbsp sugar -380ml tepid water -20ml olive oil
For the herbs: -1 handful rosemary -1 handful thyme -1 handful sage -2-4 large garlic cloves, diced -olive oil, for brushing
Add 1tsp of yeast to a large bowl. Add the flour, salt and sugar. Mix in a little bit of water at a time, turning over the ingredients with your hands or an electric machine’s dough hook. Once you have a sticky, but not soggy dough consistency, tip into another large bowl coated with the olive oil. Cover with a tea-towel or a plastic bag and place in a warm location (airing cupboard is good), for about an hour or two, or until the loaf has risen.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C. Roll out the dough onto a surface dusted with semolina or flour and knead into a round shape. Place on a lined baking tray. Brush with olive oil before scattering a handful of rosemary, thyme, sage and diced garlic cloves on top.
Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. The bread will be golden on top and will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Peppers (Sweet Peppers, Bell Peppers, Capsicum) are from the species Capsicum annuum. Cultivars of the plant produce fruits in different colors, including red, yellow, orange, green, chocolate/brown, vanilla/white, and purple. Green and purple peppers have a slightly bitter flavor, while the red, orange and yellows are sweeter and almost fruity. The whitish ribs and seeds inside bell peppers may be consumed, but some people find the taste to be bitter. They are members of the nightshade family, which also includes potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant, are sweet and plump vegetables featuring either three or four lobes.
Peppers are native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. Pepper seeds were imported to Spain in 1493, and from there spread to other European, African, and Asian countries. Today China is the world’s largest pepper producer, followed by Mexico and Indonesia. The earliest fossil traces so far are from southwestern Ecuador, where families grew their own peppers about 6,100 years ago.
The word pepper comes from the Greek word pipari which means the black spice. The misleading name “pepper” was given by Europeans when Christopher Columbus brought the plant back to Europe. At that time, black pepper (peppercorns), from the unrelated plant Piper nigrum originating from India was a highly prized condiment. “Pepper” was at that time applied in Europe to all known spices with a hot and pungent taste and was therefore naturally extended to the newly discovered vegetable (botanically a fruit but referred to as a vegetable in culinary use). Peppers were not hot but still looked a lot like the other hot peppers, chilli peppers. The pepper is the only variety of its genus that doesn’t produce any capsaicin which is the compound that is the heat in chili peppers. The lack of capsaicin in bell peppers is due to a recessive form of a gene that eliminates capsaicin and, consequently, the “hot” taste,
All of the bell pepper varieies start green and turn to red or yellow or orange etc. It is the same variety but each of the colors (besides green) is a different cultivar.
Now, I haven’t been too successful with growing peppers but that was mostly due to being a bad mummy to them. I have known a neighbour to grow lots of delicious peppers. Because I’m in England, I have to grow then indoors, but I’ve included the outside instructions as well, below.
For greenhouse crops, sow indoors, February-April. A warm kitchen windowsill is all you need for starting these seeds. Sow thinly, 0.5cm (¼”) deep, in a tray of compost. Water well and place in a warm position. A temperature of 15-20°C (60-68°F) is ideal. Keep moist. Seedlings usually appear in 7-21 days. Transplant to individual pots when large enough to handle. Grow on in cooler, but not cold conditions. Plant out May-June, to large pots, growing bags or into warm, well-drained soil in the greenhouse border. For outdoor crops: delay indoor sowing until March or April. Gradually accustom plants to outside conditions (avoid frosts), before planting out 40cm (16″) apart, when frosts are over. Choose a warm, sunny, sheltered spot. Outdoor crops will be smaller and later than those in a greenhouse. Harvest: July-October.
Peppers are often harvested when the fruit is still green, but full sized. Allowing the pepper to remain on the plant and continue to ripen, changing colors from yellow, orange to red before picking pepper fruit, will result in sweeter peppers. Harvest with scissors to not break the branches of the plant. Peppers do not keep very long so try to use as soon as you have harvested them.
I have tried ‘Californian Wonder’ from Mr Fothergills as well as ‘Northern Lights’, but there are plenty more varieties available. When you are buying pepper seeds, just look for ‘sweet peppers’ as other ones will be hot ones, that you might not want to get confused with!
Capsicum peppers are rich sources of antioxidants and vitamin C. The level of carotene is nine times higher in red peppers. Red peppers have twice the vitamin C content of green peppers. Red and green bell peppers are high in para-coumaric acid. The characteristic aroma of green peppers is caused by 3-isobutyl-2-methoxypyrazine (IBMP).
There are lost of delicious ways to have peppers. Stir fries are great, especially for the green peppers. I like the red ones raw as part of any salad as well as with melted Brie cheese on toast. Stuffed peppers are delicious with rice. But today I am sharing with you another way of fancying up my homemade pizza:
Follow this pizza recipe Updated recipe: homemade pizza and after sprinkling the cheese on top, slice the de-seeded pepper/s into small segments and scatter over the surface before putting it in the oven and following the usual steps.
Mustard plants are any of several plant species in the genera Brassica and Sinapis in the family Brassicaceae. Mustard seed is used as a spice ( Collecting Mustard Seeds). Grinding and mixing the seeds with water, vinegar, or other liquids, creates the yellow condiment we buy from the supermarkets. The seeds can also be pressed to make mustard oil, and the leaves can be eaten as mustard greens.
The word mustard is derived from the Latin mustum or must, the grape juice that the Romans mixed with honey and the ground seeds of the mustard plant (sinapi) to create their mustum ardens, or ‘burning must’.
Some varieties of mustard plants were well-established crops in Hellenistic and Roman times but it is historically noted that: “There are almost no archeological records available for any of these crops”. Wild forms of mustard and its relatives, the radish and turnip, can be located in west Asia and Europe, suggesting that their domestication took place somewhere in that area. However, historians have concluded: “Suggestions as to the origins of these plants are necessarily based on linguistic considerations”. Encyclopædia Britannica states that mustard was grown by the Indus Civilisation of 2500-1700 BCE. According to the Saskatchewan Mustard Development Commission, “Some of the earliest known documentation of mustard’s use dates back to Sumerian and Sanskrit texts from 3000 BC”.
The mustard plant was brought to Britain by the Romans via France and there are numerous Roman recipes that use mustard as an ingredient. However serious mustard production was first recorded in France in the 9th century, usually based in religious establishments and this then spread to Britain in the 9th century. By the 14th century mustard was being grown in various parts of the country including the area around Tewkesbury, where the mustard was mixed with horseradish and took the name of the town. Most mustard produced in the Middle Ages was based on using the whole or crushed seeds, mixing them with liquid and letting the mix mature. The mix was often dried, making it easier for transportation, and then liquid added again when required for use.
In the 18th century, with the developments in milling techniques the husks of the seeds could be more easily removed and the seeds finely ground. The first record of the production of mustard flour is credited to Mrs Clements of Durham in 1720 who managed to keep the milling technique used a secret for some time allowing Durham to become the centre of mustard production in the country and allowing herself to accumulate considerable sums of money selling her mustard flour. Once her milling secret was discovered, other entrepreneurs began to invest in mustard production. Most notable in the 19th century was Jeremiah Colman who began milling mustard at his flour mill in Norwich. His mustard became the English mustard, a finely milled flour, yellow in colour (assisted by the addition of turmeric) and very hot in taste.
Mustard is now a world-wide condiment and there are numerous companies involved in making, using and marketing the product. The whole or ground seeds are still an important ingredient in cooking, especially in India and Asia, while in Europe and the Americas the processed seeds are still used as a table condiment.
There are three main varieties: white (Brassica alba) brown (Brassica juncea) and black (Brassica nigra).
Recent research has studied varieties of mustards with high oil contents for use in the production of biodiesel, a renewable liquid fuel similar to diesel fuel. The biodiesel made from mustard oil has good cold flow properties and cetane ratings. The leftover meal after pressing out he oil has also been found to be an effective pesticide.
We use mustard as green manure. Green manure is created by leaving uprooted or sown crop parts to wither on a field so that they serve as a mulch and soil amendment. Typically, they are ploughed under and incorporated into the soil while green or shortly after flowering. Green manure is commonly associated with organic farming and can play an important role in sustainable annual cropping systems.The value of green manure was recognized by farmers in India for thousands of years, as mentioned in treatises like Vrikshayurveda. In Ancient Greece too, farmers ploughed broad bean plants into the soil. Chinese agricultural texts dating back hundreds of years refer to the importance of grasses and weeds in providing nutrients for farm soil. It was also known to early North American colonists arriving from Europe. Common colonial green manure crops were rye, buckwheat and oats. Incorporation of green manures into a farming system can drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the need for additional products such as supplemental fertilizers and pesticides.
Benefits of using mustard or any other crop as a green manure:
When allowed to flower, the crop provides forage for pollinating insects. Green manure crops also often provide habitat for predatory beneficial insects, which allow for a reduction in the application of insecticides where cover crops are planted.
Suppresses other weeds from growing.
Green manure acts mainly as soil-acidifying matter to decrease the alkalinity/pH of alkali soils by generating humic acid and acetic acid.
Incorporation of cover crops into the soil allows the nutrients held within the green manure to be released and made available to the succeeding crops. This results from an increase in abundance of soil microorganisms from the degradation of plant material that aid in the decomposition of this fresh material.
Releases nutrients that improves the soil structure.
Reduces likeliness of plant or insect disease, notably verticillium wilt of potatoes.
Used for animal grazing, especially poultry.
Contains nitrogen that fertilises the soil without the need of commercial products.
So I’ve continued to harvest mustard seeds to put in homemade curries, but my mum has gone one step further – she has started harvesting little young mustards and adding them to her egg sandwiches at lunch time. Here is her recipe:
Egg and Mustard Green Sandwich
-1 egg -2 slices of bread (or 1 large cut in half) -Butter -1 tbsp mayonnaise -1 handful of mustard -Lettuce, tomatoes or other salad, to serve
Bring a pan of water to the boil. Stick a pin into the top of the egg and remove. Put the egg into the pan of boiling water and leave until it has become a hard boiled egg (completely solid). This could be between 5-10 minutes.
Remove from the heat, drain the hot water and cover the egg in cold water, leaving it to cool.
Spread butter over the bread so that both halves of the bread are covered on one side.
Once cold, remove the egg from the pan and peel away the shell. Cut the egg into thin slices, then dice so that it is in lots of cubes.
Mix the egg into the mayonnaise and then spread over the buttered bread. Add the mustard greens on top. Close the sandwich and serve with salad.
The beetroot is the taproot portion of the beet plant, usually known in North America as the beet, also table beet, garden beet, red beet, or golden beet. It is one of several of the cultivated varieties of Beta vulgaris, grown for their edible taproots and their leaves, beet greens. Beta is the classic Latin name for beets, possibly Celtic origin before becoming bete in Old English in the 1400s.
Other than as a food, beets have use as a food colouring and as a medicinal plant. From the Middle Ages, beetroot was used as a treatment for a variety of conditions, especially illnesses relating to digestion and the blood. Bartolomeo Platina recommended taking beetroot with garlic to nullify the effects of “garlic-breath”. Many beet products are made from other Beta vulgaris varieties, particularly sugar beet. During the mid-1800s, beetroot juice was used to colour wine. Beetroot can also be used to make wine nowadays completely, no longer just an addition to the drink made from grapes.
I’ve only ever used ‘Bolthardy’ but I think that it is a brilliant variety. Very rich, dark pinky-red colour, tastes pretty good and lasts in the ground for a long time. I grew too many two years ago and had loads left over in the ground (seeing as only three people in my family liked beetroot then). I thought they would just rot and I would give them to the pigs in winter, but they didn’t. I have been pulling them up two summers on. The outside is as rough as I thought it would be so I discard them, but the inside is still usable. Of course, I would recommend harvesting them in their first season as that will be when they are most delicious!
Another variety I have seen in a vegetable garden lately is candy coloured beetroot – white with pink swirls in it, called ‘Chioggia’. It is very pretty and tastes good too.
To grow beetroot seeds, sow thinly, March-July, where they are to crop, 2.5cm (1″) deep, directly into finely-prepared, well-cultivated, fertile soil, which has already been watered. Allow 30cm (1′) between rows. I discovered that mine grew so much better when the ground was fed with well rotted manure. Beetroots can be grown in shade, but they seem to prosper more in direct sunlight. Keep them shaded when starting off with horticultural fleece. Regular sowings every three weeks should ensure a continuous supply of young beetroots. Harvest June-October. Harvested roots can be stored in dry sand for winter use.
Usually the deep purple roots of beetroot are eaten boiled, roasted or raw, either alone or combined with any salad. A large proportion of the commercial production is processed into boiled and sterilised beets or into pickles. In Eastern Europe, the beetroot soup borscht is popular. In India, chopped and spiced beetroot is a delicious side dish. A traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dish is picked beet egg. Hard-boiled eggs are refrigerated in the liquid left over from pickling beets and allowed to marinate until the eggs turn a deep pink-red colour. In Poland and Ukraine, beet is combined with horseradish to form popular cwilka. This is traditionally used with cold cuts and sandwiches or added to a meal consisting of meat and potatoes. In Serbia cvekla is used as a winter salad, seasoned with salt and vinegar, alongside meat dishes. As an addition to horseradish it is also used to produce the “red” variety of chrain, a popular condiment in Eastern European cuisine. A slice of pickled beetroot is combined with other condiments on a beef patty to make an Aussie burger. When beet juice is used, it is most stable in foods with a low water content, such as frozen novelties and fruit fillings. Beatnins, obtained from the roots, are used industrially as red food colouring e.g. to intensify the colour of tomato paste, sauces, desserts, jams and jellies, ice cream, sweets, and breakfast cereals.
Oldest archeological proofs that we used beetroot in ancient times were found on the Neolithic site of Aartswoud in the Netherlands and in Saqqara pyramid at Thebes, Egypt, which dates from third millennium BC. There are Assyrian texts that say that beetroots were growing in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in 800 BC. We can be positive that Mesopotamia knew about beetroots at that time because of these texts. Ancient Greeks cultivated beetroot around 300 BC but didn’t use the roots of the plants, only eating the leaves. They still respected the root and offered it to the sun god, Apollo, in the temple of Delphi and also considered it to be worth its weight in silver. Hippocrates used leaves of beetroot for binding and dressing wounds while Talmud, written in 4th and 5th century, advises eating beetroot, among other things, for longer life. Romans ate the roots but mainly for medicinal purposes. They used it as a laxative or to cure fever. Some used it as food as Apicius, the famous Roman gourmet, wrote a book called “The Art of Cooking” and in it gave recipes with beetroots used in broths and salads with mustard, oil, and vinegar. The root part of the beet was cultivated for consumption in either Germany or Italy, first recorded in 1542. The Elizabethans enjoyed them in tarts and stews. Medieval cooks stuffed them into pies. All these uses were an old variant of beetroot which was long and thin like a parsnip. This variety is thought to have evolved from a prehistoric North African root vegetable. The one that we know today appeared in the 16th and 17th century in Europe. It needed a few hundred years more to become popular in Central and Eastern Europe where new cuisines with beetroot started appearing. In 1747 a chemist from Berlin discovered a way to produce sucrose from beets. His student, Franz Achard, perfected this method for extracting sugar, leading him to predict the inevitable rise of beet beer, tobacco and molasses, among other products. The King of Prussia subsidized a sugar beet industry. The first plant was built in what is now western Poland. Today, around 20 percent of the world’s sugar comes from sugar beets. Beet sugar production requires 4 times less water than sugar cane production, making it an attractive crop throughout Europe. In Victorian times, beetroot was used to bring color to an otherwise colorless diet and as a sweet ingredient in desserts. Industrialisation allowed for easier preparation and conservation of vegetables, so beetroot became more available. The rosy betalain-rich juice of red beets was used as a cheek and lip stain by women during the 19th century, a practice that inspired the old adage “red as a beet.” Food shortages in Europe following World War One caused illnesses, including cases of mangel-wurzel disease. It was symptomatic of eating only beets. After the Second World War, because of the rations in some places, the most available vegetable was pickled beetroot in jars.
The beet greens (leaves) are also edible. The young leaves can be eaten raw as part of a leafy salad whilst the older ones are better boiled or steamed, like cooked spinach. I find that the leaves are very strong tasting and don’t particularly like them. But my poultry love them. Do not cut the leaves, but twist them off to prevent the colour ‘bleeding’.
Many complain that beets have an “earthy” taste, which isn’t far off the mark. Beets contain a substance called geosmin, which is responsible for that fresh soil scent in your garden following a spring rain. Humans are quite sensitive to geosmin, even in very low doses, which explains why our beet response ranges from one extreme to the other.
They are rich in antioxidants, folic acid, potassium, and fiber. They also contain unique antioxidants called betalains, which are currently being studied as a potential weapon in the fight against cancer. Beetroot can lower blood pressure and may increase blood flows to the brain thereby preventing dementia. A 2010 study carried out by Queen Mary’s University in London found that drinking just one 250ml glass of beetroot juice a day dramatically lowered blood pressure for several hours. Nitrates lower blood pressure because bacteria in the mouth and gut convert it into the gas nitric oxide, which relaxes and widens the blood vessels, allowing blood to circulate more freely. Tests were conducted to see if beetroot would effect athlete’s performances. Athletes could run faster after drinking beetroot juice and cyclists racing in high altitudes had quicker finishing times, averagely 16 seconds quicker after drinking beetroot juice too. Betacyanin, the pigment that gives beetroot its rich hue, is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to possess anti-cancer properties. In 2011, a study carried out by Howard University in Washington, USA, found that betacyanin slowed tumour growth by 12.5 per cent when exposed to prostate and breast cancer cells. I remember reading an interview a while ago in the Telegraph about tennis player Ross Hutchins who suffered from a variety of cancer. He had beetroot and orange juice every morning and evening. ‘Even when I was feeling really ill, I made sure I nailed eight beetroots a day,’ he says. The red colour compound beatnin is not broken down in the body, and in higher concentrations may temporarily cause urine or stools to assume a reddish colour, in the case of urine a condition called beeturia.
I really didn’t like beetroot. I really intensely disliked it. The first time I got myself to like beetroot was when it was grated with a leafy green salad alongside a baked potato with cheese and baked beans. I had to finish everything on my plate, including the beetroot, but surprisingly, I actually came round to it. It was ok grated into tiny pieces, not so earthy and overpowering. I was pretty happy as it meant I could grow it in the garden and actually eat it. They didn’t convert me into a radish or fennel fan, but beetroot was good enough. I have been harvesting my two year old beetroots and enjoying them at last.
Sprinkle grated beetroot over mashed avocado on toast, it looks beautiful. Another thing I like is grated beetroot sprinkled on top of toast that has been covered with butter and a poached egg yolk (I don’t like egg whites. I’m sorry I’m so fussy…).