Thursday, July 1, 2010

Beetroot Relish

To my daughters:

Once upon a time, before my time or your time, my mother – your grandmother – lived with her two younger sisters in a little brick house at the end of a sandy track. Her daddy went out to work every day, and her mummy stayed home with the three little girls. Her mummy cooked and cleaned and washed and sewed. She shopped from the tradesmen who drove their vans to the other end of the track, or she walked to the local shops, three little girls hanging off the pram as its wheels bogged down in the sand. She made everything from scratch.

On Sundays, they rested. Nobody picked up a needle or turned on the oven, and the little girls kept their voices quiet. They ate cold meat and vegetables for lunch, to keep the Sabbath holy.

One day at the local shop, her mummy saw something new. It was beetroot in a can! "Wonderful!" she thought, "that's one less job." She bought the can, and smuggled it home in the bottom of the pram under the rest of the shopping. That Sunday in the kitchen, she opened the can, tipped the contents into the beet bowl, and served it without comment. No one noticed, so she gave up pickling beets and switched to canned beets instead.

Several years later, her husband happened to wander into the kitchen as they were preparing lunch. He saw the open can of beets on the table, and reeled with shock. "What's this?" he gasped, "why aren't you making your usual beetroot?".

And his youngest daughter looked at him, puzzled, and asked, "But how else does it come?".

Secret women's business, indeed.

Fifty years later, in honour of my grandmother, who died last month, and in honour of my grandfather, who has closed his eyes and is waiting to join her, I have rolled up my sleeves and turned my kitchen pink. Here is my recipe for beetroot relish – like everything I do, not how they did it, but faithful nonetheless.

Beetroot Relish

- 1¼ kg beets, peeled and grated (I used a food processor)
- 1½ cups apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup balsamic vinegar
- 250g brown sugar
- 2 small red onions, finely chopped
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 oranges, zested and juiced (optional)

Place the vinegars and sugar into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Add the other ingredients and bring back to the boil, then simmer gently for 50 minutes, stirring from time to time, until syrupy.

Pour into hot sterilized jars (I use the baby bottle sterilizer; Nigella Lawson suggests that running jars through the dishwasher is sufficient), and seal. Store in a cool dark place.

Good with fetta or a crumbly cheddar, with a plate of mixed salads, or, if you're so inclined, with a bit of red meat.

(Local: beetroot, red onion, orange, apple cider vinegar. Not local: balsamic vinegar, sugar, salt.)

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