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800px-Beets-Bundle

I’ve recently done some genealogy for Martin and discovered some very interesting people and learned a great deal about their German roots and the places they settled after immigrating to Pennsylvania in the early 1700’s. Places we’ve visited or passed through took on a new significance as I was able to connect actual people to the establishment of various towns and churches.

The Bradys count among their maternal ancestors Patriots from the American Revolution and soldiers from the American Civil War and that patriotic duty continues through Martin and his brothers who served in the USMC.

His mom is an amazing lady with a big heart and a keen sense of humor. I enjoyed learning about her family and their contribution to Pennsylvania history. I couldn’t be the historic foodie without an inherent curiosity about the foods of various cultures so after documenting births, deaths, marriages, baptisms, military service, census and immigration records, my attention turned toward the foods the families ate.

This post on pickled beets and eggs is a tribute to Martin’s Pennsylvania Dutch heritage and reflects the culinary traditions of his Zartman, Swartzbaugh, Weisensale, Teal, March, and Shanabrook ancestors. Pickled beets and eggs just happen to be one of our favorite things to have on hand both for eating and for adding to salads. Combining the pickled beets and boiled eggs is an excellent opportunity to use those wire-bail and vintage blue jars and other containers which look so pretty on the table as they can be made with pre-pickled beets and don’t go through a heat process.

I have a nice stand of beets in the raised garden beds Martin made for me, and if all goes well, I expect to have beet greens in a few weeks and also add several quarts of ruby red pickled beets to my pantry about June. As we open them we’ll add a dozen boiled eggs and let them marinate for a few days in the refrigerator and enjoy a refreshing cool snack when the blistering heat of the Deep South summer kicks in. I think his ancestors would approve of our thriftiness and self-reliance.

Pickled eggs minus the beets are commonly found in the cookery books of England and I found mention of them in Ireland (The Brady half of Martin’s ancestry). John Timbs wrote in 1847 that seasons when eggs were plentiful was the time to lay in a supply of pickled eggs which were, “a relishing accompaniment to cold meat”. I suspect his Irish ancestors were well acquainted with the addition of the eggs once they had immigrated to Pennsylvania. – Manual of Domestic Economy. 1847. London.

Lettice Bryan and others used mashed beet root to naturally color pickled eggs even when the beets weren’t intended to be served as a pickle. They do make a stunning presentation. – The Kentucky Housewife. 1839.

Pickled eggs were recommended for sea stores because, “they will keep any length of time”. Indeed, though most modern recipes say the eggs will keep a few weeks in the refrigerator, I have kept them for extended periods without refrigeration and they did just fine. [The reader will kindly assume any responsibility for doing so.] – Domestic Economy and Cookery. 1827. London.

Hannah Peterson’s receipt is a good one to look at first. Note her book was published in Pennsylvania where beets and eggs are served at home and on restaurant tables.

“Boil your beets till tender, but not quite soft. To four large beets, boil three eggs hard, remove the shells; when the beets are done, take off the skin by laying them for a few minutes in cold water and then stripping it off; slice them a quarter of an inch thick, put the eggs at the bottom, and then put in the beets with a little salt. Pour on cold vinegar enough to cover them. The eggs imbibe the color of the beets, and look beautiful on the table”. – The Young Wife’s Cook Book. 1870. Philadelphia.

Authors suggested dropping hard boiled eggs, “in pickled blood beet juice until the whites become colored. Cut lengthwise and serve as a relish”. – The Philalethean Cook Book. 1921. Montrose, CO.

Richard Bradley (1732), John Nott (1723), Elizabeth Cleland (1755), Hannah Glasse and several other 18th century writers advised using slices of pickled beets as garnishes for various foods because the color is so festive and the flavor lends itself to the enjoyment of the dish.

Charles Carter’s receipt for pickled beets predates sealable glass canning jars. The beets were pickled in a stone jar with an animal bladder stretched over the top to exclude the air and keep out unwanted dust or insects. The beets would “keep” so long as they were submerged under the brine, usually accomplished by placing a plate or other weight on top.

“Set a pot of spring water on the fire, when it boils, put in your beets, and let them boil till they are tender; then peel them with a cloth, and lay them in a stone jar, take three quarts of vinegar, and two of spring water, so do till you think you have enough to cover your beets. Put your vinegar and water in a pan and salt to your taste. Stir it well together, till the salt is all melted, then pour them on the beets and cover it with a bladder. Do not boil the pickle”. – The London and Country Cook. 1749. London.

Robert Smith included unspecified spice in his receipt and, like some others, instructed pickling turnips with the beets. – Court Cookery. 1725. London.

Try some this summer, you may just like them. Blissful meals, Yall.

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