My Favorite Beet And How I Eat It

I loathed beets as a child.

I thought of them as “farm food” and associated them with visits to my grandmother’s north Texas farm, where jars of dilly beans, pickled beets, and peach jelly–all made by my grandmother or one of my aunts–often graced the table.

My father, an avid home gardener, loved pickled beets, and enjoyed them as a delicacy. I found the pickled taste and dark red color horrifying. I had no idea back then that I would one day seek out farmer’s markets and farm-to-table restaurants.

I grew up, I made my own food choices, and I never gave beets (or beetroots) another thought until we joined a Community Supported Agriculture program in Florida (or, CSA for short). When you join a traditional farm CSA, you receive all kinds of things you might never notice at the grocery store. Thanks to our family farm CSA in northern Florida, I learned about kohlrabi, collards, and beetroot.

The beets astonished me. What were these fresh, golden root vegetables? They could not have been farther from the pickled oxblood red lumps of my childhood.

These were golden beets, and I learned to love them. Roasted at high heat with olive oil and salt, they were delicious, and they did not stain my hands. Even the greens were a gift. Sauteed in a pan with olive oil, they tasted better than fresh spinach.


Golden beets are so easy to grow, so delicious, and take up so little space in our gardens, that I have planted them every year I have gardened here at Maplehurst.

I typically plant the iconic heirloom “Burpee’s Golden Beet,” available from Burpee seeds or many other suppliers.

Beet seeds are large, which makes them easy to direct sow. However, I find germination rates for my golden beet seeds are sometimes low, so I prefer to start mine indoors rather than give outdoor space to beets that might never germinate.

I grow my beets in a small raised bed, but beet seeds can easily be sown in a large pot, or planted out in a bed or border amongst other things. Just remember: if you grow edibles in your flower beds, do have your soil tested. Because I live in an old home, I don’t grow anything edible in the ground near my house. The soil there is likely too contaminated from decades of flaking lead-based paint.


Here is the method I follow for roasting beets. Once roasted, it is easy to wipe off the skin with a paper towel.

A recipe for sauteed beet greens with garlic and olive oil. Though, to be honest, I typically don’t even bother blanching the greens first.

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My Favorite Kale and How I Eat It

I no longer have an enormous vegetable garden, but I still can’t live without ‘Lacinato’ Kale.

Sometimes called “Tuscan Kale” or “Dinosaur Kale,” this dark, crinkly Italian kale is thought to date back to the 18th century. If the leaves are picked small (8 to 10 inches), it is incredibly tender and sweet, especially after a frost.

Kale, like other greens, is very easy to start from seed on a windowsill and can easily be grown in a container. It makes an ideal spring or fall crop, and would look lovely grown with flowers as edible landscaping.

I have never yet found this kale for sale in my supermarket produce section, but it is the star ingredient in my favorite kale salad recipe.

“Kale Salad with Cherries and Pecans” is found in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman.


  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 8 ounces Black Kale, also known as Cavolo Nero, or Lacinato, Dinosaur, or Tuscan Kale
  • 4 ounces radishes, sliced into paper-thin rounds
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • 2 ounces soft goat cheese, chilled


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


  • Optional step: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and spread the pecans on a tray. Toast them for 5 to 10 minutes, tossing them once or twice to make sure they toast evenly. Remove them from the oven and set them aside to cool.
  • Wash your kale and let it dry on spread-out kitchen or paper towels. Then, with a knife, remove the rib from each stalk, leaving long strips of kale leaves. Stack the leaves in small batches, roll them tightly the long way, and cut the roll crosswise into thin ribbons. Add the kale ribbons to a large salad bowl.
  • Add the radishes, pecans and cherries. Crumble the goat cheese over top.
  • Whisk dressing ingredients together in a small dish, and pour the dressing over the salad.


  • This salad is great to eat right away, but even better after 20 minutes of tenderizing in the dressing.


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Grow Your Own Figs

Are you a fig lover?

I find that figs are a Hot or Cold food. Those who love them really love them, and I am definitely a lover of figs.

I learned to love figs as a child growing up in Texas. My father grew them, and anything we could eat out of our own backyard was exciting, no matter how strange or unusual.

I might never have tried growing figs here in Pennsylvania (zone 6), but my father plants a tree nearly every time he visits one of his children. On his second visit to Maplehurst, he planted a fig known as ‘Chicago Hardy.’

That’s a good name for a fig if you garden in a place with cold winters.


Here is what I’ve learned about growing figs from my ‘Chicago Hardy’ tree:

  • Mild winters give two crops: If your fig tree doesn’t die all the way back over winter, you can expect an early crop and a late one, too


  • Mulch might make a difference (or not): Several years I have tried covering my fig in a heavy blanket of chopped leaves. One year, I wrapped it in burlap. Both years, it still died back. Now I let nature takes its course.


  • Pull off those baby fruit as winter nears: Because my fig usually dies all the way back over the winter, I don’t see fruit ripen until very late in summer. If too many baby figs are left before I’ve had a harvest, I start pulling off the smallest fruits to give the rest a chance to ripen before the first freeze.


  • Eat them, quickly, sun-warmed and fresh: That’s the best, though I also love slicing them into salads or on homemade pizza with a little goat cheese.


Here are a few more tips if you’d like to grow your own figs:

Did you know you can grow figs in containers?

So many beautiful varieties.

27 fig recipes from one of my favorite food websites.

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A Different Kind of Bulb

Tulips are beautiful.

Daffodils are beautiful and resistant to pests.

But there’s another bulb I love to plant in fall and harvest in spring, and this one is delicious:

It’s garlic!


I am always more motivated to grow flowers over food, but year after year I make an exception for garlic.

It’s just so easy. And while the grocery store offers regular garlic and (maybe) organic garlic, the seed catalogs offer so many different varieties. Reading these mouth-watering descriptions will give you a whole new appreciation for this flavorful food.

And few things are more satisfying than having your own inexpensive, organic garlic supply.


Here are my best tips for growing and harvesting this delicious pantry staple:


  • For the freshest bulbs, order online. I love the varieties offered by Seed Savers (‘Elephant’ garlic is my favorite, but I try to order in spring or early summer as it sells out fast).



  • Garlic comes in hard-neck and soft-neck varieties. I prefer hard-neck because these types grow flowers called “scapes.” When the scapes grow tall in late spring, they can be cut and gathered and made into a delicious garlic scape pesto. Here’s a detailed article describing the differences between the two types. Here’s a recipe for garlic scape pesto (scapes can also usually be found for a brief time at farmer’s markets).


  • Harvest in summer when the foliage begins to yellow and die back. It’s best to use a garlic fork to pry the bulbs out, or else you risk cutting them with your spade.


  • Garlic needs to be dried before cutting off (or braiding) the stems and putting in storage. I dry mine on a wire or wooden rack on my covered porch. To dry, your garlic will need air circulation, shade, and protection from rain.


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Celebrate: Herbs!


How do we celebrate the herbs that are growing in our gardens?

By using them, of course!

You would think we wouldn’t have to remind ourselves of this, but how often do I wait until a recipe asks for a particular herb before I think to harvest and use it? Too often, I’m afraid.

Here are some ideas and inspiration for new ways to use favorite herbs:

Iced tea: Here are some recipes for fun fruit + herbal iced teas

Make Your Own Herbal Vinegar

Flavored Salt: Like this Fragrant Tuscan Herb Salt

Herb Sugar is lovely sprinkled on fruit or used to edge the glass rim of a special drink

Sugar scrub: I found many recipes online but this Calendula version looks especially beneficial for skin

Make Your Own Herbal Sachet

Compound Butter: make your own herbal butter with these recipes

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