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Not to be Forgotten

Rothe Ruben (Red Beets) from Lancaster

Rothe Ruben (Red Beets) from Lancaster

Red beets are preserved.  One boils them and peels off the course peel, and cuts them in slices.  Then one takes honey or sugar, adds a little wine to it, and boils it.  The foam is skimmed off; the syrup is boiled until it thickens somewhat, and then poured over the previously mentioned slices.  Then one may season it with the spices which one deems most desirable.  It may be kept for daily use.  These red beets serve as a salad in the winter.  One boils, peels, and slices them as above and then pours over them oil, vinegar, salt, and spices.

--Christopher Sauer, Jr. 1774
as found in The Landis Valley Cookbook, Pennsylvania German Foods & Traditions, The Landis Valley Cookbook, 1999

Not long after I first met my husband, he took me home to meet his family in South Central Pennsylvania.  He still wasn’t sure about whether I was the one.  While he was thinking on the matter, he took me on a trial run home to meet his family. 

We lived in New York City then and took the train, speeding down my homelands of urban New Jersey and past Philadelphia’s vista of crumbling row houses.  Then into the “mainline” of suburban towns with their grand homes and gentile neighborhoods.  I’d seen such things before of course.

It was the third hour of the journey, that I looked out the train window and was awed with surprise. We were rushing across fields greener than anything I’d ever seen.  Here was the emerald world of Lancaster County. Farmlands of the Pennsylvania Dutch.  Ordered and productive.  Lush and glimmering with blessed soil.  Onward we went to his small town of Hummelstown.

It was an exotic place to me.  They did things differently there. 

My husband and his dad got up at dawn to fish in the creek down the road.  They ate weird foods like scrapple and shoefly pie—and everyone distinguished whether theirs were the wet bottom or dry bottom crusts.  Oh that was just the beginning of it.

It was Memorial Day, and his family had a big picnic around the pool.  Everyone came by and checked out Herbie’s new girl. The hamburgers and hotdogs were on some very yellow potato bread from the grocery with a German name.  The salads were mayonaisey.  The people were friendly but reserved.  One guy had such a heavy south Central Pennsylvania accent I had trouble understanding him as he raved over the Lebanon bologna. 

But to me, oddest of all were the red beet eggs.  It was a custom these Germanish people had of putting peeled hard boiled eggs—whole-- in a sweet-sour sauce with red beets.  After a while, the eggs became fuschia colored. Very shocking.

This Not To Be Forgotten recipe from 1774 Lancaster is a winner—a classic pickled beet recipe from the Germans.  It was intended for winter pickling but makes a wonderful summertime salad.  Try this in your modern life on greens with ricotta salata or blue cheese crumbled on top.  Maybe some walnuts and red onions, too.

For me of course, this recipe can’t help but remind me of the moment I entered a foreign family.  It was that very same weekend 21 years ago, that father told son I was the best woman he’d ever brought home. He gave his blessing—for me ever associated with the sight of red beets in that strange emerald green world.

Modern interpretation

6 red beets
pinch of salt
¾ cup red wine vinegar
7 to 8 tablespoons of honey or sugar (according to taste)
salt, pepper, and chopped fresh dill weed to taste

1.  Scrub beets, leaving skin on and removing stems.  Put in big pot full of water, add pinch of salt, and bring to boil.  Cook on medium heat 1 hour or until beets are cooked.  You may need to add boiling water if water level goes below beets.

2.  Let cool and peel off skins.  Cut each in half, then slice.

3.  In nonstick pan, heat vinegar on medium high heat and add sugar or honey, stirring until melted.  Turn down heat to medium and let bubble until it reduces by fifty percent, to a syrup.  Pour over beets and add salt, pepper, and chopped herbs. 

Keeps well, covered in refrigerator, up to a week. 

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Your blog looks beautiful!!

Not only do I get to read and dream about food, I also get to look at the delicious paintings.

Welcome to bloglania.


    – Karen Cole (May 04 2008 at 9:22)

My husband’s grandmother, who was Pennsylvania Dutch from Lancaster County, used to make a beet salad that tasted like this one sounds.  I can’t wait to try it.  Since all four of my grandparents came from Italy, I have learned how to cook many, many Italian dishes from both my grandmother and my great-grandmother.  I will try some new ones from your web site.  Your column, and your Jellypress site, are wonderful resources for anyone who loves to cook.  Thank you for having this web site.  I will visit it often, I am sure!

    –  (May 08 2008 at 11:55)

This recipe reminds me of the pickled beets I grew up eating. My family is from south west/central Pa, but many Amish and Mennonite families live in my home county and their food traditions are very popular. Our beets are cut into chunks rather than sliced and pickled with cloves rather than dill. I’ve never seen anyone put the eggs in with the beets--I’ve just known it as a frugal way to re-use the beet brine left in the jar. Those eggs never appealed to me as a child, but I do think I might enjoy one now!

    –  (May 17 2008 at 7:33)

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