Our sweet little town of Longmont has been devastated by epic flood waters this past week, and I found it fitting to write tonight about a piece of its’ history, the sugar beet. As some of you may or may not know, the agricultural community of Longmont was historically one founded on the production of the sugar beet. Founded in 1901 by Charles Boettcher, the Great Western Sugar Company constructed its’ facility in Longmont in 1905 recognizing that the land in and around Longmont was perfect for the sugar beet industry because of the richness of the soils and the availability of irrigation water. Original workers immigrated from Sweden, Germany, Russia, and Mexico settling in northwest Longmont in order to participate in this burgeoning industry within the community. Starting in the 1700s, the sugar beet was recognized for its sweetening qualities, and by 1870 sugar beet growing for sucrose production became a viable industry in the United States. However, with the mechanization of an industry that was once manual labor-intensive, the sugar beet mill in town (located near the intersection of 3rd Avenue and Highway 119) closed and has sat vacant since 1980.
At Aspen Moon Farm, we grow what is commonly known through North America as beetroot, the table beet, or, very simply put, the beet. Different from the sugar beet in that it has a lower sugar content and the root itself is intended for human consumption, this is what has been in your CSA shares throughout the season. We grow several varieties of beet at the farm, including Detroit Red, Bull’s Blood, Early Wonder, Gold, and Chioggia (white and red candy-cane striped coloring). Deeply earthy in flavor, the beet has a residual sweetness that is quite divine on the palette. Additionally, the beet is a nutritional mecca. The root itself is a great source of folate, manganese, and potassium, while the greens are rich in vitamin C, iron, and calcium. This close relative to spinach and swiss chard really is a hub of nutrient density.
Thanks to successive plantings, the beet is available at Aspen Moon starting in June and will be harvested until our season effectively finishes. Lucky for us, this amazing superfood is one that is often taken for granted, but can be a staple in our diets almost the whole season long. Pickled in cuisines around the world including those of Eastern European countries, Australia, New Zealand, and the American South, the beet is also the base for a popular Eastern European soup, borscht. It has experienced a resurgence in restaurants nationwide and is commonly found on menus just about anywhere you dine out. One of my favorite uses for the beet is in a salad. In fact, last night, I steamed beets and served them over mixed greens with walnuts, crumbled gorgonzola, and balsamic vinaigrette. But, arguably, my favorite way to eat beets is as a beet napoleon. A creation of my husband’s, it is a great finger food hors d’oeuvres at dinner parties and captures the essence of the earthy flavor of the beet.
– Four, uniform-sized whole beets (medium or large in size)
– 2 cups soft goat cheese, chevre (preferably Haystack)
– Lemon or orange zest
– Fresh thyme or rosemary
Line a baking dish with aluminum foil. Place washed beets (skin on) in aluminum foil. Add 1 cup of water or wine to dish. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Check after 30 minutes. Cook until easily pierced with a fork. Let cool. Remove skins, and slice into ¼ inch thick rounds.
Let goat cheese soften and mix in citrus zest and fresh herbs. Form goat cheese into medallions about the size of each beet medallion. Place goat cheese medallions between beet slices and lightly press. Cut into quarters. Let refrigerate before being served to allow napoleons to set.
Also included in this week’s CSA share (varies by CSA pick-up location):
– Salad mix
– Kale or swiss chard
– Tomatoes (heirlooms or reds)
– Celery or cabbage
– Beets and/or carrots
– Sweet peppers