Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Mom's Pickled Beets
A simple recipe that makes great eating!
5-10 beets, depending on size
1/2 cup brown sugar or honey
1 cup white or cider vinegar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons caraway seeds (optional; Mom's Czech heritage) Other spice options: allspice, cloves, celery seeds, cinnamon stick
Scrub beets and cut off the greens and tail. (I cut right into the flesh, removing all the stem, so I end up with clean water without any plant residue or dirt.) Add them to the water and steam or bake until thoroughly tender.
Remove skins (they should slip quite easily). Cut or slice beets into equal-sized pieces, and return to the liquid. Add brown sugar (or honey), vinegar, and caraway seeds. If necessary, add more water to cover beet pieces.
Bring to a boil, immediately shut off heat, and cover. Let sit on stove 1 to 2 hours. Add more sugar, vinegar, or water to taste. It will taste overly potent while it's hot.
Gently spoon into storage jars, and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks. Or, process in a canner to enjoy during the winter!
Favorite or New Plant
To get the best choices, buy spring-flowering bulbs now. These include alliums, amaryllis, anemones, brodiaeas, crocuses, daffodils, freesias (so fragrant!), fritillarias, galanthus, baby glads, glory-of-the-snows, grape and Dutch and wood hyacinths, Dutch iris, ixias, leucojums, lycoris, montbretias, narcissus, paper whites, peonies, ranunculus, scilla, snowdrops, sparaxis, tigridia, tritonia, triteleia, tulips, dog-tooth violets, watsonias, and winter aconites. Choose big, plump bulbs, as these have the most stored food and will produce the largest and most numerous blooms over the longest period of time. They cost a bit more, but they'll provide a great deal more pleasure when they bloom.
If you like having blooms in the lawn, try chionodoxa, eranthis, muscari, ornithogalum, and puschkinia. They are good for naturalizing, and the ripening foliage following bloom won't interfere with mowing the lawn.
Don't forget to buy some bulbs just for indoor forcing from Thanksgiving through January. Good choices include amaryllis, crocus, freesias, lilies-of-the-valley, paper whites, and tulips.
Store the bulbs in a cool, well-ventilated area until you're ready to plant. Chill crocus, daffodil, hyacinth, narcissus, and tulip bulbs in a paper (not plastic because the bulbs are alive and need to breathe) bag on the lowest shelf in the refrigerator for at least six weeks.
Enrich the soil where the bulbs are to be planted with compost, bone meal, and granite dust or wood ashes (but not from charcoal briquettes used in the barbecue, which contain harmful chemicals). Also add some nitrogen, as it is easily washed from the soil by winter rains, and bulbs need a small but continuous supply all winter long for strong growth of the foliage and the blooms.
For a long-lasting spring display, plant some early, mid-season, and late-blooming bulbs every other week from October through mid-December, and again beginning in late January.
Depth of planting also affects when the bulbs will bloom: shallower plantings will bloom sooner, and deeper plantings will bloom later. If you want everything to bloom for one spectacular display, plant the bulbs at the same time and at the same depth. If you prefer color over several months' time, plant bulbs every several weeks, and vary the planting depths each time you plant.
Plant autumn-blooming saffron crocus now for a November harvest. Each corm produces from one to three flowers, and about six corms should provide sufficient saffron -- just the three tiny red stamens in each bloom -- for each cooking or baking recipe.