I don’t often get attached to the crops we grow but the golden beets in your share this week might taste a little sweeter if you knew their struggles making it to your plate.
We planted them in the fall, which came on the heels of a late-summer flash drought so intense that leaves on many trees here turned brown a month early. Supported by drip lines of irrigation, our baby beets grew fast, their dark green leaves waving in the hot breeze. The hungry buck, doe and fawn who eyed them from the opposite side of the fence grew bold enough one night to break in and have a taste. Something in those beets made them keep coming back while turning up their black wet noses at the rows of equally beautiful kale and cabbage. With each nightly feast the row grew shorter and the farmer more angry.
Our fence on this side of the farm was in need of repair but these beets were screaming for immediate protection. The easiest solution was to set up hoops and cover them with row cover. Imagine my astonishment the next morning when I found thirty feet of it torn to shreds. By the end of the week, the entire row was punched with holes, either by hoof or horn, and not a green beet leaf in sight.
I knew from previous episodes of beet-browsing that if the ravaged plants had big enough roots, the energy stored in them would nourish new growth — if (and always a big if) the winter was mild, which it was. By late February, the green leaves were waving in the sun once more. This time the deer were still in post-hunting-season stress mode and not about to show their white tails.
The white that did come was considerably more menacing. Six inches of snow, a quarter inch of ice, and seven sub-freezing days was enough to turn green into instant brown. By now, the farmer had given up on them, yet they managed to slowly come back from the dead as the warm sun urged those green shoots out one more time. Previous springs have brought a third menace — the notorious blister beetles — but the record freeze did its part to knock them down. Now, in the final stretch, they were in a race against thistle, burdock, wildflowers, and Johnson grass. Our brave beets didn’t win but they did well enough to get picked for your share.
Yesterday, just hours after I harvested them, Erin roasted those winter-weary ones that were too embarrassed to be seen in public. I grabbed a particularly misshapen one, still warm in the pan, and stopped to savor its earthy sweet flavor. A little sweeter, no doubt, from all the stress of making it here.
Recipes From Kalina: