a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter wasn't Easter without beet eggs

Pennsylvania Dutch pickled beet egg. (Scott Beveridge photo)
By Scott Beveridge

An Easter never went by in our house without beet eggs in the refrigerator.

And the kids needed to act quick if they turned their attentions away from their chocolate and wanted to eat one of those hardboiled eggs marinated to a pink color in beet juice, beets and onions. The adults on mom’s side of the family always gobbled those eggs up as if there were no tomorrow.

I never knew any explanation for why my mother concocted them, or why her sisters and brothers were hooked on them, other than those eggs tasted great. It wasn’t until this Easter approached that I began to wonder about that tradition and also decided to make a batch of them at my house.

So I asked my mom’s sister, Bonnie, about them and also turned to the mighty Google for answers.

“Our mother always made them for Easter,” my aunt said.

My grandmother was Iva Dail Coughenour Hart, a native of Dunbar in Fayette County, Pa. She would store her eggs in a crock in the back of a kitchen cupboard, my aunt Bonnie explained. My grandmother’s eggs turned so dark in the beet liquor that even the yokes turned pink, my aunt said.

Meanwhile, web searches indicated the recipe is peculiar to Pennsylvania and particularly the Pennsylvania Dutch, early German immigrants to North America. They also introduced beets to the continent.

My mother’s tradition began to make sense because Iva’s family had claimed to be descendants of the Pennsylvania Dutch.

She and my mom, June Hart Beveridge, also were experts in using common sense approaches to raising their children.

Having a big jar of beet pickling juice in the kitchen made perfect sense. It created the ideal place to add shelf life to all of those colored eggs the children ignored beside the chocolate bunnies, jellybeans and Peeps in their Easter baskets.

The Harts also carried with them a bevy of superstitions that some might consider to have been silly.

“It was bad luck to rock an empty rocking chair,” my mom often said, repeating the phrase she heard from her mother.

It’s also annoying as hell when a brat sits there rocking an empty chair and ignores a parent's instruction to stop. But that kid might pause and think when a parent warns that such behavior will bring the curse of bad luck upon his heads.

Another often repeated superstition around our house involved bad luck for placing shoes or a hat on the kitchen table. Well it’s also unsanitary to set shoes that might have just stepped on dog poop where you also place your dinner plates.

The other day Aunt Bonnie revealed another one that her mother repeated.

“You wash your hair on Good Friday and you won’t have a headache all year,” she said.

I wondered if that wasn’t something immigrants came up with to inspire their natty-haired children to scrub themselves off good before church on Easter Sunday.

Back to the beet eggs, …

Unfortunately mom did not leave behind her recipe for them when she died in May 2010.

The Internet revealed scores of recipes, and nearly each one is different from the other. She likely just opened a can of beets and tossed its contents into her Tupperware jug with some salt, sugar, onions and an equal part of vinegar.

Others take the time to boil fresh beets and add to the juice such ingredients as horseradish, cinnamon, pickling spices, brown sugar and apple cider vinegar.

Anyone who is familiar with my recipes on this blog would know that I often take the lazy man’s approach to the kitchen.

I found a jar of gourmet pickled beets at the local grocery store and mixed it with the following: a dozen hard-cooked eggs; one large, chopped white onion; a few cloves of garlic; two tablespoons of horseradish; 10 whole peppercorns; several sprinkles of ground sea salt; a cup of cold water; and one cup of apple cider. The beets were jarred by the Safie Specialty Foods Co., and they were excellent. Peeling the eggs was the most time consuming part of the project.

The eggs tasted just fine but I would have rather had those this Easter from my mom’s kitchen.

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Amanda Blu said...

I had NO idea there was such a thing as gourmet picked beets. Nice write up, Scooter.

Keith McManus said...

We always had beet pickled eggs for Easter and at other times, too

Anonymous said...

Now that your Mom isn't with us, Karen Hart always makes some for my Dad. Loved this story, Scott, and of course, the memories...