Sometimes I feel sorry for the poor beet, growing as it does beside the ever-popular carrot and a row or two away from the universally-embraced potato. Despite their jewel-toned hue (or maybe because of it) they just don’t seem as, well, adaptable as other produce. They don’t get invited to the vegetable soup party — unless you count borscht in that company — nor are they eaten raw on summer veggie platters. Roasted, they make a fine addition to salad but, like a dinner guest who’s had one too many glasses of Merlot, tend to take over the meal and make it all about themselves.
The Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of pickling beets, however, makes the most of this veggie’s strongest characteristic. Put aside, for a moment, the fact that I like just about anything that has been pickled. For the beet, the practice of pickling adds a pleasant vinegar twang and sugary sweetness that complements the earthiness of this root crop. Depending on the type of beets you use, it also results in a lovely deep-red pickling liquid that, when introduced to a hard-boiled and peeled egg, creates a little kitchen miracle: the pickled egg.
Growing up as I did not far from Pennsylvania Dutch country there were two dishes that epitomized summer to me: the three-bean salad, and pickled beets and eggs. It is probably no coincidence that both incorporate vinegar in rather liberal amounts. Once upon a time this quick preservation method was perfect for this time of year — it discouraged bacterial growth and seasoned summer produce at the same time.
I make this dish at least once every summer and every time I’m surprised by the two camps that form around it: those who love pickled beets and eggs, and those who simply do not. Maybe it’s a vinegar thing, or maybe it’s that red eggs are somehow just a little too strange to be embraced by the masses. Being the professional marketer I am, I took this on as a branding challenge. Maybe the pickled egg just needs a new name. I figured “Ruby Slippers” might be just the ticket to a “try.”
I also experimented a little with different types of beets. Pickling with traditional red beets turns hard-boiled eggs a lovely red-purple color. Golden and candy cane beets produce a pinkish egg.
I’ll fess up and share that, like the ill-fated New Coke of the 1980s, the “Ruby Slippers” were not a hit with the little girls in our house nor with some young playdate friends we had over. But we served these on two different occasions and both times, more “mature” guests asked to take some home (oh, how I love those who admit to loving a pickled egg!). So I stand by the “love-hate” comment and ardently hope that my daughters’ developing taste buds will, in time, allow me to add this back in to a more regular summer menu rotation. But for now, the “Ruby Slippers” are all mine…but I’ll share if you want me to!
Here is how I made ours, with a strong nod to the John Hadamuscin recipe on About.com.
Pickled Beets & Eggs
8-10 beets (any variety, but red beets make the most vibrant eggs)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
2 cinnamon sticks
1 dozen eggs, hard-boiled, cooled and peeled
Wash and trim the beets, rub with olive oil and roast them in tinfoil packages (3-4 beets per package) at 400 degrees for approximately 1 hour, until tender.
When cool enough to handle, peel the beets under running water and slice into 1/4-inch rounds or wedges. Put the beets into a large glass bowl or divide evenly into several 1-quart canning jars or another large, glass container (a clean glass vase or two will work)…in total, you’ll need to hold about a gallon. Plastic containers will stain, and metal imparts a slightly tin-y taste.
Distributed the sliced onions among the containers with the beets.
Make the pickling liquid by bringing the sugar, cider vinegar, water and salt to a simmer in a large sauce pan. Add the cloves, allspice berries and cinnamon sticks and remove from heat. Pour the pickling liquid over the beets. If using more than one container, distribute the spices as evenly as you can.
Add the eggs to the containers with the beets and onions and allow to cool slightly before covering and refrigerating for at least 8 hours.
The beets and eggs will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Serve the eggs whole with beet slices and onions, or for a great presentation, halve or quarter the eggs. Or slice the eggs into rounds and serve over a salad for an interesting twist.
Serves: 6 – 12 depending on how many eggs per person your crew eats
Kid rating: one-half star. Both daughters tried the “Ruby Slippers.” Daughter one couldn’t get past the first bite, and daughter two took an adventurous second bite before calling it quits. They aren’t big vinegar fans — yet — so in a way this didn’t surprise me too much. But if your kids like pickles and vinegar dressings, I can only imagine these would be a hit.
Parent rating: four stars. You can dial up or dial back the sugar to make these more or less sweet. I prefer mine on the less-sweet side. The onions retain a nice crunch and are great paired with sandwiches or in salads. The beets really shine in this preparation too. Make a couple extra beets and eggs because SOMEONE is going to ask for a doggy bag.