Sunday, September 26, 2010


There are numerous ways to prepare beets. In addition to Pickled, Salad, or Harvard Beets, beets are delicious fried or used in baking. Some past recipes include Beet Pie (1860), Lombardy Tarts (1588), Crimson Biscuits (1727), To Fry Beets (1723), Pink Pancakes (1788) Beet Fritters (1889),  Beet Vinegar (1854) and a Stuffed Beet with rice and pecans (1919). Recipes for these dishes can be found at the end of this article.  The proper way to prep beets and whether to boil or bake...

The proper way of preparing beets, according to many old recipes, was to clean carefully so as not to "...break the skin on them, and on no account cut off any of the fine roots; for so surely as you do, so surely will your beets be tasteless and colorless. Put them over to boil in a kettle of cold water. When partly done, throw in some salt. When tender, take them out into a dish of cold water, which cools them so you can handle them..." [Arthur's Home Magazine. Timothy Shay Arthur. Phila: 1869] To check when done, "...lift one from the water with a skimmer, press it with the fingers, protected by a dry towel; it will yield slightly to pressure when it is done." [Family Living on $500 a Year by Juliet Corson, 1888]. Remove the skin with your fingers, not a sharp knife.

Other authors preferred baking beets rather than boiling. "Beets retain their sugary delicate flavor much better by baking instead of boiling; turn often in the pan while in the oven, using a knife, as a fork will cause the juice to flow; when done, remove skin, slice and season with butter, pepper and salt, or if for pickle, slice into good cold vinegar." [Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping. Ohio: 1877] A third suggestion is to roast the beets in hot ashes.

Beets can be stored in a cold cellar, or "...buried in moist earth in a corner of the cellar, from which they are to be taken as wanted." [Good Housekeeping. Springfield, Mass: 1887] Or according to Leslie: "TO KEEP CARROTS, PARSNIPS, BEETS, AND SWEET POTATOES. These should all be housed before the first frost. Range them side by side, and bury them in dry sand ; a bed of sand at the bottom; another between each layer of the vegetables, and a thick sand covering for the whole. When wanted for use, begin at one end, and draw them out in regular order, and not out of the middle till you come to it." [Leslie, Eliza. Miss Leslie's Lady's New Receipt-book. Phila: 1850]

Fried beet recipes in the 18th and 19th century called for frying the cooked beet slices in butter after being ‘dredged’ in flour; or diced and fried. Pink Pancakes involved smashed cooked beets added to a batter, then fried.

Link to Early Beet Recipes at website.

To make a pink-coloured Pancake.
BOIL a large beet root tender, and beat it fine in a marble mortar, then add the yolks of four eggs, two spoonfuls of flour, and three spoonfuls of good cream, sweeten it to your taste, and grate in half a nutmeg, and put in a glass of brandy; beat them all together half an hour, fry them in butter, and garnish them with green sweetmeats, preserved apricots, or green sprigs of myrtle.—It is a pretty corner dim for either dinner or supper
The Experienced English Housekeeper. Elizabeth Raffald 1786

Eggs the Burgundian Way
Pound a Piece of red Beet with some beaten Cinnamon, Sugar, Macaroons, and a Slice of Lemon then take half a dozen Eggs, without the Tread, a little Salt and Milk mix all well together, and strain them through a Sieve; put it into a Dish, let it over a Fire, and brown it with a red hot Fire-shovel.
The Lady's Companion 1743

Beet-Root. [Pickled]
SET a pot of spring water on the fire, when it boils put in your beets, and let them boil till they are tender ; take them out, and with a knife take off all the outside ; cut them in pieces according to your fancy, put them in a jar, cover them with cold vinegar, and them down close; when you use the beet, take it out of the pickle, and cut it into what shapes you like; put it in a little dish, with some of the pickle over it. You may use it for sallads or garnish.
The English Art of Cookery. Richard Briggs 1788

Other 18th century authors suggested adding spices such as “some mace, nutmeg, and very little pepper” [The Lady's, Housewife's, and Cookmaid's Assistant. E. Taylor. 1769] or “[p]our over them a hot pickle of white wine vinegar, a little pepper, ginger, and sliced horse-radish.[The Accomplished Housekeeper, and Universal Cook. T. Williams. 1717]

To fry Beets.
Bake them in an Oven, peel them, and cut them in Slices long ways, and about half an Inch thick; then steep them in a thin Batter, made of White-wine, fine Flour, Cream, and the Whites and Yolks of Eggs, (but more Yolks than Whites,) season'd with Salt, Pepper, and beaten Cloves; let them lye in the Batter a little while, then take them out, and drudge them with Flour, crumbled Bread, and Parsley shred small; then fry them, and when they are dry, serve them in Plates with Juice of Lemon. You may also make a Fricassie of them with Butter, Parsley, Salt, Pepper, and Onions.
Nott, John. The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary. London: 1723

Stuffed Beets
Wash 1/2 cup of rice and sprinkle it into a kettle of boiling water, let boil 15 minutes and drain. Chop a cup of pecan nuts and mix with the rice, add 1 teaspoon of salt, and a little pepper. Scoop the centers from cooked beets, fill the space with rice mixture, stand in a baking-pan and bake 20 minutes. Chop the centers of the beet, add to a cream sauce and serve around the beets.
Furgerson, A.N. From House to House. NY: 1916

Works cited
Arthur, Timothy Shay. Arthur's Home Magazine. Phila: 1869
Briggs, Richard.  The English Art of Cookery.  1788
Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping. Ohio: 1877
Corson, Juliet. Family Living on $500 a Year. NY: 1888
Furgerson, A.N. From House to House. NY: 1916
Good Housekeeping. Springfield, Mass: 1887
The Lady's Companion 1743
Leslie, Eliza. Miss Leslie's Lady's New Receipt-book. Phila: 1850
Nott, John. The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary. London: 1723
Raffald, Elizabeth. The Experienced English Housekeeper.  1786
Taylor, E. The Lady's, Housewife's, and Cookmaid's Assistant.    1769
Williams, T.  The Accomplished Housekeeper, and Universal Cook.  1717

©2010 Patricia Bixler Reber


  1. My favorite beet dish is Harvard Beets. I was a fairly advanced age before I realized there were also Yale beets.

    1. I have never heard of Yale Beets... will have to try them and compare with Harvard's.