Fresh beets of autumn

A lot of people still think beetroot is a terrible vegetable that their mum force-fed them in salads, but it is very good for you and can be delicious

We’ve had some lovely beetroot from the Wisley gardeners this past week – the usual purple variety as well as candied beetroot, which I like to call 'Paul Smith beetroot' because of its distinctive stripes.

In the next few weeks we’ll start receiving more stripy beetroot, including yellow, orange and pink – visitors to Wisley may have seen the boxes of beetroot that are planted around the edge of the garden. These more interesting varieties are vibrant when raw but do tend to look slightly duller on cooking.

Forget boiling beetroot – they lose their colour and, once cold and peeled, have a funny haze to them.

The best way of cooking them I know is to roast in a double-layered bag. Sit the cleaned but unpeeled beetroot on greaseproof paper with a layer of kitchen foil underneath. Add thyme, garlic, a bit of chopped lemon and some olive oil and fold to enclose. Roast for about 90 minutes in a moderate oven and you’ll find the flavour and colour of the beetroot are retained, plus you’ll have some wonderful cooking juices: the oil, lemon, thyme and garlic combine to form a natural dressing.

Beetroot and goat's cheese with Puy lentils from Wisley's restaurantOnce you peel and chop the beetroot, mix them with the cooking juices and serve with grilled salmon and horseradish cream; or hot smoked salmon and watercress; or for something vegetarian, with a soft goat’s cheese, green beans or Puy lentils, and bitter leaves.

And the beet goes on...

With apple season underway as well, I’m in full preserving mode! The beetroot has gone into a chutney that we serve with our local sausages and use in sandwiches with Sister Sarah cheese.

We’ve also made a beetroot lemonade: we juice the beetroots and apples, then add mint, lemon syrup and some vitamin C. It’s a little healthier than regular lemonade and the tartness and sweetness of the apples takes away the dry earthiness of the beetroot. Add a touch of ginger if you want: it goes very well with it.

Our famous Wisley beetroot and poppy seed loaf cake will be making a reappearance, too. I particularly like this one because, even with the icing on top, it is versatile enough to be enjoyed with a cuppa, or alongside blue cheese and pickled pear. The sweet, sour and savoury tastes altogether are a great combination.

That cake can also be dried and turned into crackers! Simply cut the loaf thinly and put it into an oven set to 50°C (120°F), or in the warming drawer of an Aga, until the slices have completely dried out. The result is another great partner for cheese – nothing like those awful beetroot experiences of childhood.

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