Sweet, tender: It’s almost enough to make you fall in love. Once regarded as an acquired taste, fresh beets are making a colorful and flavorful comeback as nutrition takes greater priority.
At Holyland Farm north of Lawrence, Joy and Bob Lominska not only grow beets but they savor them.
"They are wonderful young, " Joy said. "They’re tender and sweet—kind of like baby carrots."
"Golfball-size is pretty close to perfect," Bob added.
The Lominskas also cook the greens from the top of the beet, which may be prepared in the same way as spinach. Like spinach, the greens contain vitamins A and C but beet tops contain more iron and minerals.
The beets themselves are rich in potassium and contain iron, calcium, phosphorus, niacin and vitamins A and C, as well as protein and fiber.
The Lominskas are including their beets in the vegetable bags distributed by the Rolling Prairie Alliance’s subscription vegetable service and selling them at the Lawrence Farmer’s Market.
In the past years, the Lominskas have sold their organic beets to Pines International, the local nutrition supplement manufacturer, which makes beet powder.
Although beets are commonly pickled or used for soups like borscht, the Lominskas prefer theirs steamed or boiled and served with butter. Joy notes that beets are best when cooked whole, which retains the flavor and nutrients, but this method takes time. Allow at least 30 minutes for steaming beets.
"If you slice them, they cook faster, but you lose the color and juice," Joy said.
When preparing beets for cooking, leave the root intact but twist off the leaves, leaving a stub about an inch long. This keeps the beet from bleeding.
Beets are easy to grow but require frequent weeding. The Lominskas direct-seed their beets in early April. Beets tolerate frost and thrived in this year’s cool, dry spring.
"I wish I’d planted more this year," Bob said. "You want it just dry enough that you’re worried about whether you’re in for a drought, but then it rains."
The Lominskas’ favorite beet variety is Detroit Dark Red, which produces dark green leaves with red ribs and is a colorful addition to the vegetable garden. Detroit Dark Red also is regarded as a good beet for long-term storage.
Not all beets are bright red, however. Yellow-fleshed beets are attracting attention, as is Chioggia, a beet with pink and white stripes.