Tuesday, March 15, 2011


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/8/2011)

Bob Feller, the legendary high-kicking, pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, once said, “Trying to sneak a fast-ball by Ted Williams was like trying to sneak a sunbeam by a rooster in the morning.” Bob Feller came straight off an Iowa farm at 17 into the major leagues so he knew something about both fast-balls and roosters. His father built a “field of dreams” for him down by the barn and named it Oak View Park. He credited his arm strength and ball speed with milking cows, picking corn, and baling hay. He was reliable.

At one time, his fast-ball was measured at 107.6 miles per hour. In his entire career of 18 years at Cleveland, he pitched 266 victories and 162 losses with 2,581 strike outs. A few days after Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Navy and eventually became a chief petty officer as a gun captain firing the famed Bofors on the U.S.S. Alabama.

When it comes to gardening in Flagstaff, reliability is important. Our climate doesn’t tolerate poop-out vegetables, and the best no-poop-outers are root vegetables, such as beets. Root vegetables don’t have the same panache as does a mesclun of arugula, frisée, chervil, and radicchio thrown with balsamic vinegar, goat cheese, dried cranberries, and pine nuts and served with a fine chardonnay, but like “Bullet Bob,” beets pack a lot more punch.

To begin with, beets are incredibly nutritious. They’re not only jammed with antioxidants, they’re also anti-inflammatory and foster detoxification, especially heavy and radio-active metals. Those alone would make them wunderbar, but there’s more: iron, copper, zinc, manganese, iodine, fiber, starch, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A, B, B5, B6, C, E, and folic acid. My mother told me carrots were brain food. So are beets, and all of us need a little help there.

In addition to all that, they’re easy to grow. Any damned fool can grow them. I know because I do. Beet seeds look a little like Grapenuts but are actually small bundles of seeds. As with nearly everything else in the garden, they require a nutritious, friable soil, compost-loaded soil.

Fertilizer should be low in nitrogen for the sake of the root. The seeds are best planted one inch apart in rows 12-18 inches apart with successive sowings every three weeks for a continuous crop. When plants are a few inches high, it’s best to thin them to 3-4 inches apart so the roots will have growing space. Also, they need regular watering and weed picking.

The only problem with beets is cooking them because they stain. Surgical gloves keep the stain off the hands, and lemon juice removes beet stains from the skin. Beets shouldn’t be cooked too long for fear of adversely affecting their nutritive value and color, 20 minutes for steaming and nothing over an hour for roasting. Leave an inch or so of the tail and the leaves to prevent staining. The skin can easily be slipped off after steaming or roasting.

They can also be pickled, but that’s a “whole ‘nother story.” Olga Johnson has a great recipe for borsch at (http://oldfartskitchen.blogspot.com.

Happily, God has blessed us with many varieties. Several of the favorites are bull’s blood, Burpee’s golden, Detroit dark red, and di Chiogga. The last one has concentric circles of light and dark and is favored for salads. They are sweet, tangy, and a delight to the eye as well as the tongue.

In addition to the root, beet leaves are also a desideratum and can well be added to a mesclun to give it a little fire-power. Beets are often denigrated to the beer-and-brats and accordian category, but, nowadays, they’re actually dernier cri (the latest in fashion) served with a fine pinot noir accompanied by a string quartet. Some slight them because they’re a root, but no less a person than the food critic for The New York Times, Martha Rose Shulman, considers them “the new spinach,” so full are they of nutrients and flavor.

Bob Feller said, “I just reared back and let them go,” and go they did. Beets are a 107.6 mph worth of goodness and taste. Go beets! Go!

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011

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