What's in Season: Beets
I notice Victoria Pecoraro standing in front of her house. It’s October on Cape Cod, and a steady wind moves the dozen or so bird feeders in her yard from side to side. She lives on the top of a grassy hill in Wellfleet, and gives a short wave when she notices someone coming up the driveway.
Pecoraro is the owner of In the Weeds Farm, and, when she calls me over, I begin to notice a substantial vegetable garden next to her house where she does a large portion of her farming. She’s had more than a hundred beets in her garden since spring and even though she plans to dig them up in the next few weeks, she says beets can be put in the ground at any time of the year, and are available throughout the winter.
“The beets I have are ‘Bull’s Blood’. They taste almost the same as most red beets. They’re not super sweet, but they’re a good basic beet. The main difference is the greens: most red beets have green greens. These beets,” she says, pointing to a thick line of lustrous burgundy, “obviously do not.”
“I grow vegetables I love to eat, but vegetables that are beautiful too,” says Pecoraro.
These beets are far from the industrial red cubes of your high school lunch tray. They have an incredible, full-bodied texture with luscious red shoots. Bull’s Blood is a variety of red beet, the most common kind of beet, but there are several other varieties, and there are several other kinds, she says. Golden beets, white beets, and so on.
The young beets can be tastier, and tenderer. The larger beets grow, the more they can begin to taste fibrous. But, she says, when you buy a beet, it should always be firm—like a potato. At this moment, she makes fists with her hands, demonstrating the stiffness of the vegetable.
When Pecoraro talks about beets, and about food, you can tell she takes pride in what she does.
Pecoraro moved to Cape Cod in 1990 and has been a farmer for over 20 years. Her father was one of 13 siblings, and his brother, “Uncle Frank”, used to have a modest vegetable plot in his yard.
“[Frank] taught me about vegetables when I was younger. He would give seedlings to his brothers and sisters and their kids, and we would grow our little vegetable gardens. And every year they would get full of weeds, and Uncle Frank would threaten not to give us any more seeds,” she laughs. “He would even store plants in his spare bedroom, and would have them growing during the winter. He had a little stand in town, and people would buy his tomatoes there,” she says.
When Pecoraro started her own garden, she took after it with her uncle’s enthusiasm. Every place she could grow something in the field next to her house, she did.
“I had to cut down some trees, remove the ivy; I started to garden everywhere I could,” she laughs again.
But Pecoraro didn’t get her love of beets from her uncle. It was her mother, and her mother’s recipe for beet salad.
“[Mom] was a full-time nurse, so she didn’t have time to can [the beets], but she’d get fresh beets, slice them up, and add some oil, vinegar, and onion. She used to make pickled beets too, and stir fry the beet greens with garlic and olive oil. They’re like candy, they’re so sweet, and delicious. You can put in a little sugar, but I tend not to; the beets are sweet enough.”
To make Pecoraro’s mother’s basic recipe for a fresh beet salad, cut the greens from the beetroots (the most popular part of the beet), and boil just the roots until you can stick a knife into them (about 15 minutes depending on the size). Then, dump them in a strainer, and run cold water over them until they can be handled. Remove the skins, then slice the beets, put them in a bowl, and add olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and thinly-sliced onion. If you like, stir fry the greens with garlic and olive oil, and mix them into the salad.
You can find Victoria Pecoraro at the Orleans Winter Farmers’ Market throughout the season. Other market vendors who plan to sell beets this winter include Checkerberry Farm and Cape Cod Organic Farm.