n his offbeat classic Jitterbug Perfume , author
Tom Robbins heaps lavish praise upon the beet. It is,
he says, "the most intense of vegetables 85 deadly serious
85 the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The
beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded,
buried, all but fossilized 85 Beets consumed at dinner
will, come morning, stock a toilet bowl with crimson
fish, their hue attesting to the 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. The lesson of the beet, then, is this: hold
onto your divine blush, your innate rosy magic." The
novel goes onto describe a recipe for immortality that
includes, among other things, lots of sex and beets.
Beets are as earthy as a mouthful of dirt. Perhaps that's
why here in America few contenders come close to challenging
the beet for the title of Least Favorite Vegetable. Not
broccoli, not spinach, not even yellow summer squash
inspires such vitriolic passion among its detractors.
Perhaps the offense is in the paradoxical earthy sweetness
of the beet, while the scarlet aftermath in our toilet
bowl sings of our marriage to the food chain in ways
we'd prefer to forget.
Meanwhile, if you ask people about their favorite taste
in the whole world, many will name chocolate. Like the
beet, chocolate is a food of passion. In the movie "Chocolat," for
example, the heroine opens a chocolate shop in a conservative,
old-world Catholic village during Lent. The town's leaders
begin a witch-hunt, denouncing her as a temptress. Near
the end of the story she succeeds in awakening the long-suppressed
passions locked away in the hearts and g-spots of the
town folk. Indeed, chocolate is known in many circles
as not only an aphrodisiac, but as an outright substitute
So here we are, discussing two passionate, earth-toned
foods, both of which demand to be taken seriously. Perhaps
you suspect where I'm going with this and are bracing
for a combination that seems even less likely than the
union of heaven and earth.
But how heavenly is the taste of pure chocolate? Not
very, unless heaven is a bitter place; chocolate - the
roasted seed coat of the cacau plant - is made palatable
only when combined with sugar. Oftentimes that sugar
comes from beets - the world's No. 2 source of the sweet
stuff, behind sugarcane.
I was on the phone with a farmer friend one day while
he was making dinner for his wife and their crew of hungry
women. While we spoke, he made a vat of pesto and some
French filet beans in a soy-garlic-ginger sauce. All
of a sudden he said, "Oh 85 I gotta go stir my beet thing." Next
thing I knew, I was talking to a dial tone.
That night, one of the farmer's hungry women brought
me a sample of said beet thing. It was gooey and moist,
like fudge. It was sweet and full of chocolate, like
fudge. It tasted like fudge, even though it was mostly
grated beets. (It also contained chocolate chips, cocoa
powder and butter. He cooked it on the stovetop.)
His wife was inspired by the possibility of chocolate
and beets. Over the weekend, she did some research of
her own, arriving at a dense oven-bar recipe wherein
a cup of flower is mixed with a cup of cocoa powder.
To this is added a mixture of 1 cup grated beets, 2 eggs,
fresh raspberries, a little water and a melted mixture
of 2 tablespoons butter and a cup of chocolate chips.
This substantial wad is mixed and baked in a greased
pan at 325 degrees for about half an hour. The product
is a color that would make Tom Robbins blush: a combination
of red and brown, that was dark as night, and shiny as
Not wanting to be outdone, and aware that Tom Robbins
was also a huge mayonnaise fan, I devised, tested, tweaked
and perfected the following recipe for chocolate beet
You think I'm crazy ...but wait!
My tasters were thoroughly blown away by this perfectly
moist and dense chocolate experience and reluctant to
believe it contained beets and mayo. You, my friend,
will like this cake.
Combine the following ingredients in the following order:
2 cups flour; 1 teaspoon baking soda; 1 teaspoon baking
powder; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 1/2 cup cocoa powder; 1 cup
sugar; 1/2 cup chocolate chips. Stir the dry ingredients
before adding 1 teaspoon vanilla; 1/2 cup half & half,
1 cup mayo and 2 cups shredded beets (boiled 10 minutes
in 1 cup water, until tender, and drained). Bake it in
a greased pan at 350 until a plunged fork comes out clean
(about half an hour). Cool.
For the frosting, combine 1/2 cup each of sour cream,
cream cheese and confectioner's sugar in a bowl. Beat
it all together until smooth. Beat two egg whites until
stiff, fold them into the frosting, chill 30 minutes
Tom Robbins, eat your heart out.