Regular readers will know that I’m a massive fan of beetroot – actually I don’t think that there’s much you can say against it. You can grow large quantities in a small space, it’s easy to grow and relatively trouble free, stores exceptionally well and is incredibly good for you. From three timely sowings a year, we have our own supply of beetroot almost all year around. We had our first fresh beetroot of the year from the polytunnel in mid May this year; fresh from the veg patch outside about a month later and the winter storage crop will last right up until next April if we’re lucky.
Unlike hardier roots like parsnips, I don’t leave my beetroot in the soil for the winter – this week I lifted the whole lot of them for storage in a box of sand. I harvested sixty or so in all, which were from the third sowing (sown in July and planted out about a month later). Before putting the roots in to sand, they need a little cleaning up. Having twisted off the foliage on the beetroot (leaving a 2 inch crown of stalks), I give the roots a good spray down with a hose to clean off all the muck. I then leave them to dry off for a day or two. Then, I grade them – only the best ones should be stored so any that have holes in them go straight to the kitchen to be used up.
I use horticultural sand which you can buy (cheaply) in garden centres, but be mindful that you may need to dry it out before use (particularly if it has been stored outside). Mine felt wet when I got it home, so I simply emptied the bags out on the bench in the potting shed to leave it dry out for a few days. When ready, place the roots between layers of sand in a box, making sure they are not touching each other. Store the box in a dark, frost-free shed. Using three roots a week, this stash should last us about 5 months.
The Basics – Picking Brussels Sprouts
Early maturing sprout varieties are now cropping. Pick sprouts as soon as they are ready to eat (while still hard and firm and before they open out). Pick the sprouts from the bottom of the stem first and then move upwards. To harvest a sprout simply snap off by pulling downwards. The leaves at the top of the stems can be cooked like spring greens – very tasty they are too.
Do not “Irish mammy” the sprouts by boiling the divil out of them for 20 minutes (apologies to all Irish Mammies). Blanch them in boiling water for just a few minutes and then fry them in some oil with a sliced clove of garlic and some almond flakes. Season well and add some olive oil before serving.