The Pearl Street Pumpkin Patch + quick balsamic pickled beets
A couple of weekends ago, I rode my bike down to the Pearl Street Pumpkin Patch. The one that was started by my late buddy Steve. His son is manning the operation now and I gathered a couple of friends (and two tiny people) (whom I adore) to help with some end-of-season work. We drank caffeinated goodness from Steam (the best coffee in town, FYI) and tended to matters pertaining to mallow, and I provided pop-up Star Wars books in effort to keep the wild things from getting into too much trouble. Although the books did their job for a good hour, it wasn't long before the kiddos were finding worms and the neighborhood cat and all the gardening tools that certainly shouldn't wind up in the hands of small children. And us? Well, I'd venture to say we put a sizable dent in a good portion of that pesky mallow.
It felt good to be back in that garden again. To have my hands in the dirt and to be doing something that felt increasingly more meaningful than my day-to-day grind. But, if I can be honest, it also felt really strange to be back in the place that Steve loved most.. without Steve. I remember standing up and looking around at one point - eyes on the verge of overflowing with tears - and trying my damnedest to keep it all in. I tend to be glass-half-empty with these sorts of situations, but just as soon as the tears started rolling down my cheeks, my mouth gave way to a giant, toothy grin. Steve was there. And you could feel it. He was in the tangle of cosmos and the mess of half-ripened tomatoes and the big ass chard that was growing all unruly-like, toward the back of the garden. I took a deep breath to soak it all in. To soak up the fact that the little garden was mighty as ever; bursting with life and color and bringing people together, just as Steve had intended. And you know what? That's a really beautiful thing. The fact that his legacy is being carried on is a really fucking crazy and beautiful thing. I feel so lucky that I get to be a part of it.
As for this recipe? Well, I'm sure it'll be wildly unpopular because you guys come here for the sweet stuff but, when Jack (Steve's son) sent me home with more than a few beets after our time in the garden that morning, I figured I'd use it as an opportunity to share some photos of the Patch along with my go-to recipe for quick balsamic pickled beets (I've got plans to roast that pumpkin and make pumpkin + beer soft pretzels, FYI). This is probably the point where I admit that I have no idea what the hell I'm doing. I eat pickled things because I like the flavor, not because I'm necessarily trying to reap the health benefits of foods that are pickled the proper way. And, unfortunately, I never have time for "the proper way" because when I want pickled beets, I wanted them five minutes ago. I usually let them chill for an entire day before digging in with a fork, but my Oma swears they taste better after a week of mingling in the fridge. So there's that.
If you like beets but aren't necessarily the type of person to eat them straight from the jar on a Friday night while watching reruns of America's Test Kitchen (heh, HI), I'm pretty sure these beets would be delicious in Laura's everyday superfood salad or Sara's beet green chopped salad. You could also take the pickled magenta goodness and do something wild: make Kimberley's smoky beetroot hummus. Or you could go the lazy route and smash them on top of avocado toast (which is my second favorite way to eat 'em).
Notes: Feel free to pickled the beets whole (like my Oma) or slice them into discs, instead (matchsticks could be great, too). Although you can enjoy these within a couple of hours of being made, I recommend practicing some self restraint and letting them chill in the fridge for at least an entire day. If you don't have unfiltered apple cider vinegar, feel free to use the filtered stuff. And if you're not down with balsamic vinegar, simply replace it with additional apple cider vinegar. Oh, and if you've got an orange on hand, I highly recommend using the peel as an add-in. Though not absolutely necessary, it helps to mellow out the earthiness of the beets.
QUICK BALSAMIC PICKLED BEETS
1 1/2 pounds beets, peeled and chopped into 1/2" cubes
1/2 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons cane sugar, optional
1 dried bay leaf
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 ceylon cinnamon stick
A few strips of orange peel
Place the beets in a small pot and fill with water, about 2" over the beets. Cover with a lid, set over medium heat, and cook for 45-50 minutes, until tender (the water won't start boiling for at least 20 minutes). While the beets are cooking, add the cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and cane sugar (if using) to a 3/4 liter jar (the jar pictured is not 3/4 liter, FYI). Stir to combine then mix in any of the optional add-ins, if desired. Once the beets have been cooked through (you can test for tenderness after 45 minutes), use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the prepared jar then top with water from the pot, just barely covering the beets. Allow the beets to cool on the counter until they reach room temperature, then cover with a lid and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before consuming. These should keep for up to two weeks, but they've never lasted longer than a few days in our house (because I'mma fiend).
Yield: One 3/4 liter jar