It is autumn and all the root vegetables are back. The air has grown colder and I long for earthy and comforting dishes. Gone is the time of the fresh and crisp summer salads, to make the heat bearable. All over now.
Now I make beet salad. Dark and earthy, and straight up from my childhood. This salad is not the sparkling, fire works and let the champagne pop rockstar dish that wants all attention, but boy do I crave it‘s humble homeliness sometimes. It is like a blanket of good memories and happy times.
My parents were growing most of our food. We had a huge vegetable garden that produced nearly everything we needed. Over the winter my mother planned meticulously what and where to plant come spring. And every year without fail there was a big bed full of beets.
Once those beets were ready to be harvested, a big preparation began: First they were harvested, the greens cut off and the soil washed away. The cleaned beets went into the big canning pots and boiled until they were tender. After cooling enough that they could be handled without burning yourself, we scraped off the skin and my father was grating one after the other into a big laundry bin. The bin had been cleaned thoroughly before that and placed on top of the kitchen stool, so that my father didn’t break his back over grating 150 or 200 beets. After grating, lots of cumin, salt and vinegar were poured on top and my father had to roll up his sleeves and mix the salad with his hands. Everybody stood around in the kitchen, tasting and looking forward to all those meals coming. After the taste was just right, my mom started to fill the salad into canning jars, closed them with gummi rings, glass lids and clips and stacked them into the canning pot. Load after load got sterilised and transferred to the shelf in the basement were the provisions for winter were stored.
Throughout winter and spring this beet salad was the center piece of the „quick meals“ when my mom was short on time. When this happend, she’d prepare mashed potatoes and eggs sunny side up, or scrambled, and sent one of us kids to fetch a jar of beet salad. And voilá, the entire family was feed and happy. It was a warm comfortable dish. Creamy potatoes, the salad earthy but with enough bite from the vinegar and cumin to make it interesting, and the eggs pulling everything together like a caress.
And then the colors! Even when I was little, I was utterly fascinated by the colors of the beet salad on the plate and the contrast of the egg yolk. I found their colors so brilliant and pleasing. The salad oscillated from dark purplish red to bright magenta on the plate. The egg yolk pushed up to it, but didn’t mix to a muddy color as one would expect. No, both colors stayed intact, and helped each other to shine. I can’t describe how pleasing I found them together.
But what I realize now, is that those early experiences formed a warm, fond memory connected with beets. And when I illustrated the recipe of the beet salad I ended up with a somewhat matured, but unmistakably reminiscent color palette of indigo, purplish pink and golden ochre. Because somehow the memories informed the art and filled it with earthy and rich feelings.
Oh, and if you ever make this recipe, don‘t use oil. It wrecks the entire dish. Beets have an „oily“ consistency once they are cooked and don’t need any more oil added. This would only result in a feeling of „to much“ and take away from the clarity and simplicity of the salad.