Today's new favorite thing is golden beets.
The word "beets" is so humble that it puts me in mind of downtrodden peasants in a cold hut. Pairing it with the regal adjective "golden" sounds preposterous. But these wonderful root vegetables rise above their name. They are sheer pleasure to work with—just look at the color, ABOVE —and they have an unexpectedly refined flavor.
I love classic pickled beets—the red ones, which were a dinnertime staple at Gran and Pappaw's table—and for a while now I've fancied pickling golden beets with ginger because ginger tastes yellow. They're an obvious match. The only question was which vinegar to use and how to flavor the syrup. I settled on cider vinegar for its gentle piquancy and mild apple-y taste, and then pulled out the normal array of pickling spices—cinnamon, cloves, all spice etc—to support the ginger. In putting together this recipe, I relied on the indispensable Linda Ziedrich for fundamentals like how far the vinegar can be diluted before losing its preservative effect. Then I threw in pinches of this and that, counted the floaters and made slight adjustments. Still, if you compare the below recipe to any standard recipe for pickled beets, you'll see that I'm within well-established parameters.
Pickles have to sit for a couple of weeks before you taste them since the vinegar needs time to penetrate the vegetable, so I won't be able to report definitive results until next month. But I'm confident enough to lay out the recipe right here and now: the naked beets were delicious on their own, and the syrup is delicate and balanced. I tasted it once, then I tasted it twice. And then I drank a spoonful. The sum of that combination can't be less than its parts.
GOLDEN BEETS PICKLED WITH GINGER
8 bunches small golden beets
8 cups cider vinegar (I used the French brand Beaufort)
2 cups water
a thumb of ginger root, maybe 2 inches, sliced
12 all spice berries
2 cinnamon sticks (maybe three inches each)
2 cardamon pods
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar (Ziedrich's idea to boost the flavor)
1 Trim the beets and boil under tender, about 30 minutes.
2 While they're cooking, prepare the syrup by combining the rest of the ingredients in a pot and bringing to a slow boil. Simmer for a few minutes then turn off heat.
3 When beets are tender, plunge them into ice water, slip them out of their skins and neatly trim the root and leaf ends.
4 Halve or quarter the beets, depending on size, and pack into pint jars. Return syrup to a boil and ladle into jars through a fine-mesh strainer (to catch the spices.) Wipe the rims and seal. Process in a boiling-water bath for 30 minutes.
8 bunches beets yielded 6 pints.
4 x pint
1 x quart
8 cups of vinegar yielded almost an extra pint of syrup, which means that this recipe could work for as much as 10 bunches of beets. (I know that a "bunch" in an inaccurate estimate.) After tasting the syrup, it doesn't seem to me crazy to think about using champagne vinegar instead of cider vinegar. The golden beets would be gorgeous in the pale liquid.