Beets in space

There is a bucketload of information you can collect about beets, whether from the Internet, cookery books, or the diaries of dead Mesopotamians. If you’re a beet freak, then you probably already know about the vegetable’s history. If you’re not … please proceed.

The beet has been cultivated since before folks were starting to keep track of time on tablets.

The ancient Romans used beetroot to treat fevers and constipation—which is not a surprise, because as I’m coming to find out, the Romans had a laundry list of foods they’d just throw at every disease and if any symptom was relieved, or the person got better, clearly it was because of something they ate.

On top of that, those frisky Romans believed beetroot juice was an aphrodisiac. But again, it’s become pretty apparent to me that simply eating was considered a turn-on for those guys, so I wouldn’t place any great weight upon that discovery.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Napoleon Crossing the Alps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Napoleon must have had a sweet tooth because during the wars that bear his name, the British cut the French off cold turkey from their regular sugar shipment. Monsieur Bonaparte got a twist in his knickers and dedicated a slew of acres to grow sugar beets, eventually opening schools for folks to study the plant. I’m guessing that business plan didn’t take off, as it seems the world is not populated with university franchises that churn out beet scientists. Just a thought.

Beets are often fed to both horses and athletes in vigorous training (usually not for the same race), likely due to the wealth of nitrites.

Beets were at one time referred to as blood turnips. Yeah, yum. Another marketing mishap.

Geosmin is what may cause the “earthy” flavor of beetroot. Or it might be that the guy assigned to wash them before cooking didn’t scrape enough dirt off.

Alexi Leonov and Valery Kubasov, crew of Soyuz...

And lastly, for our space fans out there, in 1975, the Apollo 18 crew was welcomed aboard the USSR’s Soyuz 19 with a banquet of borscht in a tube. Classy, huh?

So in honor of beets in space, and the fact that my mother-in-law is visiting, and it’s hands down the yummiest thing she cooks for us, we’re making BORSCHT!

Okay, to be precise, we’ve already made it. Now it’s your turn.

Nanna’s Beet Borscht: adapted from 3 million Jewish women in thousands of kitchens.


Beetroot 3 lbs (minus the greens – but save those for salad and sautéing!) peeled

2 Lemons (you’ll use at least 1 ½ of them for juice with the other half to be used as needed to taste)

1 Onion (about 8 oz worth)

64 oz of water

2 tsp salt

4 Tblsp sugar

2 Eggs

Sour cream – for the table

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Wearing industrial strength rubber gloves—or at least ones that haven’t been used to scrub the loo—peel your beets in the sink, or over an area well-protected from possible staining. (You can always collect and bag the skins to use for future egg coloring, clothes dying or art projects.)

Cut beets and onion into quarters and place in a soup pot with water, salt, sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and simmer until fork tender—30-40 minutes.

Beat eggs and add a few ounces of the beet liquid at a time until the eggs are tempered. Now, if you’re feeling sure of yourself, slowly drizzle a stream of the egg liquid back into the beet liquid, a bit at a time, stirring continuously. If you’re more the cautious type and don’t want to take a chance at making beet soup with scrambled eggs, ladle out 2 cups worth of beet liquid into another pan, add the egg mixture as above and then chuck the whole thing back in with the beets.

Remove a few of your quartered beets—perhaps around two beets worth (8 quarters), dice and reserve in a separate bowl on the side.

Puree the mixture in the pot, add your diced beets, season to taste and gently reheat, taking care not to boil the liquid lest you curdle your eggs.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve hot with diced cooked potatoes in the winter, or cold with sour cream in the summer. It doesn’t matter which season we’re in—I need the sour cream.


PS If you’re searching for seeds (from arugula to zucchini and everything in between), I’m recommending a company that not only has a worthy mission creed but a wonderful moral code. Give The Mauro Seed Company a looksee.

Their motto? Grow One, Give One. I’m impressed. Maybe you will be too.

7 thoughts on “Beets in space

    • I’m guessing that’s a question only a beet could truly answer. And since beets are a bit silent on the subject, and as my kitchen potager does not have the sophistication of a science lab, I would imagine we’d need to find a true biologist to query. Let me know if you find any answers, Joe.

  1. BEETS In Space!

    I woke up in the middle of the night thinking of a movie some students from the Ohio Institute of Technology made in the late 1970’s called “B.E.E.T.s In Space”, so, at 3:00am here I am searching for any reference to it.
    The program was produced to be a spoof of “Pigs in Space”, from the Muppets Movie of 1978 (the year I enrolled), itself a broad parody of Star Trek and similar productions.
    B.E.E.T stands for Bachelor of Electronics Engineering Technology, due to the fact that O.I.T. had not (at the time) earned accreditation for a legit B.S. Program. I was in the last year of the B.E.E.T. program and the first year (1981) of the B.S.E.E.T. Program and therefore graduated with a legit B.S.E.E.T., with the school now a DeVry Institute of Technology. DeVry closed the Columbus campus I attended in 2019 and all historical records, files and other media were lost, “to infinity and beyond”, and now only exist as memories of past students.

    I came across “Beats in Space”, but that was unrelated.

    A couple years after graduation in 1982, I joined a book club where a new title was sent out every month to members. I received Tom Robbins “Jitterbug Perfume” (1984) one month. While I remember very little else about the book, I remember being struck by his closing words about beets (there are references to beets in the story), and how beets are very unique, the only vegetable to retain color after passing through you. I have not seen this quote online, so it remains mysterious.

    From the book:
    “Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets.
    The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip…”

    And, “B.E.E.T.s in Space” has traveled, I’m afraid, to where many such student productions have gone before, into Oblivion…

    Strange as it is, I now pass this on to you.

    • I believe your quote about potatoes, radishes, and beets has described most of the people sprouting from my family tree. It truly cannot be more accurate. We do look so much like root vegetables.

      Thanks for this, Sam. Cheers!

      • The Lesson of The Beet:

        “The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The onion has as many pages as War and Peace, every one of which is poignant enough to make a strong man weep, but the various ivory parchments of the onion and the stinging green bookmark of the onion are quickly charred by belly juices and bowel bacteria. Only the beet departs the body the same color as it went in.

        Beets consumed at dinner will, come morning, stock a toilet bowl with crimson fish, their hue attesting to beet’s chromatic immunity to the powerful digestive acids and thoroughgoing microbes that can turn the reddest pimento, the orangest carrot, the yellowest squash into a single disgusting shade of brown.

        At birth we are red-faced, round, intense, pure. The crimson fire of universal consciousness burns in us. Gradually, however, we are devoured by parents, gulped by schools, chewed up by peers, swallowed by social institutions, wolfed by bad habits, and gnawed by age; and by the time we have been digested, cow style, in those six stomachs, we emerge a single disgusting shade of brown.

        The Lesson of the Beet, then, is this: Hold on to your divine blush, your innate rosy magic, or end up brown. Once you’re brown, you’ll find that you’re blue. As blue as indigo. And you know what that means:

        Tom Robbins
        ‘The Bill’ from “Jitterbug Perfume”

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