I started today by wrapping you in foil, loosely, and roasting you for no less than an hour. You’re stubbornly slow, but worth the wait. As I sat in the kitchen, book in hand, stomach full from a cooked Sunday breakfast, I was soothed by the faint sweetness you gave the air. The earthy undertones reminded me of the times I’ve scrabbled in soil with my hands, gently dragged you out of the ground with a gardening fork and watched cascades of soil fall from your roots. I salute your near full-year seasonality.
I write this with vivid pink fingertips, a tone that falls somewhere between Pantone’s Fandango and Azalea Pink. Peeling your still-warm skin off is frustrating when rushed, but when given time and patience allows a level of satisfaction and mindfulness that other meal prep simply cannot bring. In the silence of an empty kitchen, each peel echoes the sound of masking tape being stripped from a newly painted wall to reveal that perfectly crisp border. My white t-shirts live in fear of you but I love the way your hues seep into yoghurts and brighten smoothies. I remember, aged ten, sitting on the toilet and staring at a pale pink tissue, which I knew should have been closer to a clear-golden colour. I called my Grandma to the bathroom, both panicked and proud by my early introduction to womanhood, only for her to tell me it was beetroot-induced. Occasionally she will make a chocolate cake, a simple, rustic-looking round bake with you hidden inside, clever enough to add moisture but muted enough to let the cocoa steal the show.
When I return to the coast to see my family, I visit your ancestor, the Sea Beet, and stash its thick, waxy leaves in a Tupperware ready to wilt and toss in salt and garlic. Your latin name, Beta vulgaris, does not do you justice, especially when your rainbow of varieties offers a spectrum from gold and white, to the classic deep purple. Slicing through a candy beet is like studying the rings of an ancient tree trunk through a psychedelic lens. It gives life to generic green salads and contrasts spectacularly with fresh mint leaves. You are just as beautiful in black and white, immortalised in pen and paper and hanging on the dining room wall, preserved with a sheet of glass. Lightly shaded leaves grow upwards, dark, inky roots trickle down.
And your flavour, your balanced, earthy, sweet, nuttiness that bonds perfectly with the sharpness found in vinegars and tangy cheeses. You are too often left on the side-lines, remaining considerate towards the star of the show, your subtlety and smoothness complimenting ingredients that so many vegetables would overwhelm. But to me, you’ll always be the hero on the plate. I love you in all your forms; tossed raw in salads, thin, grated fingers of purple running through a forest of green; sliced and submerged in malt vinegar, your crinkled surface peeking out through the glass of the jar; cubed and shining from the stainless steel container of a cheap salad bar.
I would love to continue this ode to you, to share the way you provided the ancient Greeks and Romans with a valuable source of medicine, who named you ‘teutlion’ because of the resemblance your stalks bore to squid tentacles. And to explore how perfectly your leaves lend themselves to pesto and salads. But I have four deep purple globes glistening on the counter next to me and some feta waiting in the fridge, eager to marry you on a plate sprinkled with crushed nuts and toasted chickpeas. And you’re making me hungry.