Friday, October 5, 2012

Autumn Harvest, Roots

With the cooler temps, we've begun harvesting many of our root vegetables.  Beets, carrots, and rutabaga are all Autumn favorites.  Pan roasted or put up for later, these vegetables are a nice addition to the Fall dinner table.

Rutabaga is a member of the turnip family.  These vegetables thrive in cool temps and moist, yet well drained soils.  Although these were planted at the same time as the green beans last May, they didn't take off and start growing til the soils began to cool in September.  We've been pretty religious about thinning, as you note in the picture, these are now growing cheek to gum and need to be thinned further.  Which is okay by me.  Young rutabagas have a mild flavor.  We peel, then cook them on the stove like a potato.  They can then be served mashed as a tasty substitute for mashed potatoes.
Beets are in the same food family as Spinach and Kale.  Although many people are only familiar with pickled beets, these can be roasted or even added to stir fry for a little color and flavor.  Both the root and greens are edible.  For more information about this food see

The following is a favorite recipe of mine for beets.  For those who don't cook with wine, you can use cider or apple juice however the recipe works best with red wine.  By the way: at our house the rule of thumb for cooking with wine, is only use the wine that you would drink.  If it is not palatable enough to be sipped from a glass, you don't want to use it on your food.

Beets poached in Wine Sauce

 ¾ cup dry red wine (Merlot) or apple juice            
1/2  cup  water
1 Tbsp.  packed brown sugar 
 2 1/2  lb.  beets, peeled, and cut into bite-size pieces
Tbsp.  snipped fresh parsley
Lemon wedges (optional)

In a large saucepan combine 1/2 cup of the wine, the water, and brown sugar. Bring to boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add beets. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 45 minutes until beets are tender and can be pierced with a fork, stirring occasionally. Drain. Transfer beets to serving bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
 Splash with remaining 1/4 cup wine. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with lemon wedges. Makes 8 to 10 side-dish (1/2-cup) servings.
*Note: You can avoid staining your hands with beet juice if you wear plastic gloved while peeling and cutting the beets. Trim beet tops or leave tops on.

Although I've never developed a taste for wild carrots, I wanted to share with you this picture.  To make it easier to weed the garden, vegetables are planted in rows then marked with a string hung a few inches above the soil.  Anything growing on either side of the string is pulled as a weed.  Anything within the row whose leaf doesn't match what is expected, such as a thistle or clover, is also promptly pulled.  When harvest time comes, it always gives me a wee smile to see what surprises are held beneath.  As you see, the wild carrot top and the domestic carrot are similar.  Both are edible however the domestic carrot has a sweeter flavor, is higher in beta carotene, and is easier to pull.  Nothing goes to waste.  Goats, chickens, all sorts of animals love the wild carrots as much as the domestic.  
If you have planted carrots, make notes as you harvest.  Are they straight or bent?  Are they long and thin or irregular?  If you have kept the seed package, read what the vendor stated as 'normal size'.  Prime conditions will result in good, straight, sweet tasting carrots.  If the soil is too hard or stony, you may end up with stunted or crooked roots.  Keep this in mind before planting next year. 

Lastly, remember: all foods taste best when enjoyed when shared, after some fresh air and exercise with a friend.

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