If you venture out to Hoveton Hall this August, you will see at the far end of our kitchen garden, under a sea of purple, green and burgundy leaves, belies our bumper crop of various beetroots. Genuinely delicious right now, a completely different vegetable to the vac-pac pre-cooked, irritating to unleash from shrink wrap ‘imposter’ we slice over our salad leaves.
It’s been called the marmite of veg, but unlike marmite, you either love beetroot in season, or quite simply, you’re wrong. (Actually I’m just being a food snob, some people have a complete justification for disliking beetroot as their genetic make-up simply can’t digest them properly). In fact, the more I dig around for beetroot facts, the more I unearth about this princely superfood. I’m developing an (healthy surely?) interest in beets, so many facts…too many for this article, so here are a just a few…
The ancient Greeks considered them to be worth their weight in silver. The Romans considered them to have aphrodisiac properties, although all so-called aphrodisiacs seem to just fiercely resemble the land and sea from whence we came… oysters, truffles, cacao, honey…but then I find out that beetroot contains high amounts of boron, a chemical which increases the level of sex hormones in humans, so for a change, perhaps it really is!?
More great uses for beetroot…it has obviously been used as a dye for hundreds of years…it helps reduce blood pressure, is a cure for dandruff!…and as for its sugary cousin!…well that’s just fuelling the nation.
Some would consider the farming of sugar beet and the production of sugar to be right at the heart of Norfolk’s agricultural landscape. As synonymous with this county as dumplings and Partridge, the production of sugar from farmed sugar beet (home grown beet currently provides over half of the sugar we consume in Britain), is actually one borne out of conflict, caused by none other than Norfolk’s very own hero – Nelson.
Sugar was first extracted from beets on an industrial scale by France during Napoleon’s reign, due to Nelson blocking sugar cane from entering French docks. The same issue arose for us during the First World War, when Britain could no longer rely on imports getting in. We needed to be self-sufficient, leading to the construction of the Cantley sugar factory on the Norfolk broads in 1912. Norfolk now produces 30% of the national sugar crop, with two thirds of all sugar beet grown in East Anglia.
Beets, right at the heart of Norfolk? Ain’t it the ‘troot!
1 red onion
4 ripe tomatoes
1 red pepper
A handful of flat parsley
A handful of basil leaves
Some torn up stale bread
100ml olive oil
40ml red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1 small garlic clove
Cook your beetroot in lots of boiling water until soft (this will take about an hour).
Lay your bread on a tray, drizzle with olive oil and bake in a low oven for 20 mins or until crisp.
Peel your carrots, discard the peelings, then just carry on peeling so you have a couple of handfuls of carrot shavings.
Slice the onions as thinly as you can.
If you can be bothered, blanch and peel your tomatoes, and chop, if you can’t, then just wash and chop. Personally I’d recommend 8 pieces per tomato.
Peel and chop your cucumber in large dice.
Finely dice your pepper.
Tear up your herbs.
Whisk up your dressing, toss all of your ingredients to create a salad, add your dressing, toss more, this is an orgy of ingredients rather than a meet and greet.
Dish up and serve!