I’ve been experimenting with heirloom vegetables this year. Part of my inspiration is a desire to connect with the past. Another part is a desire to connect with my work. Earlier this year I wrote a series of articles about heirloom seeds for Gardening Know How. One of those articles was on the Crapaudine beet, the oldest known cultivated beet in the world.
Wanting to back up my writing with hands-on experience, I got my own Crapaudine seeds and planted them in the garden in April. After a few months, three of them had gotten big enough to pull.
The seeds all came from the same packet, but one of these things is not like the other ones…
The two rough beets are more like what I was expecting – I’d read that the skin would be tough and barky, possibly with a secondary root. This made sense to me, as if it were a missing link between the wild roots our ancestors ate and the fully cultivated ones we grow today.
Maybe that beautiful smooth one is just the kind of mutation that got us where we are today.
Or maybe I don’t know a thing about beet evolution.
I cut open the perfect beet (it was perfect on the inside, too) and laid all three out on a baking sheet.
I roasted them at 350 F for well over an hour, checking them every now and again with a fork. Once they were done, I tried to peel them.
I’d read that if they’d been roasted long enough, the beets would slip easily out of their tough skins. This was not especially true. Peeling these things was hard and messy. If anything, the flesh sloughed away from the skin, turning to mush if it wasn’t held very delicately.
I think peeling before cooking would have been the way to go.
Once I managed to get to the flesh, it tasted pretty darn good. It was sweet and earthy, with a grainy texture that did make it seem more “primitive” than a modern beet. But maybe that’s just my imagination.
I have another batch getting big in the ground – I’m interested to see how many look authentically ancient.