Eat to the Beat: Preserving Beets with Emily Triggs of Magnolia Buckskin

I’ve known Emily Triggs for years, but the first time I went to her house, only a few blocks from mine, she was kneeling in the front garden, harvesting fresh mint. The plant was enormous – the size of a small shrubbery – and no matter how much we picked, it didn’t appear to get any smaller.

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I know Emily through my friend Natasha – they play together in an acoustic grassroots-folk-pop quartet called Magnolia Buckskin along with Kathy Cook and Corry Ulan. It’s a feel-good band of original songs with divine vocals and an array instruments from banjo to mandolin; once in awhile we wind up at parties with one or more of the girls, and it always ends up in a living room (or back yard, depending on time of year) jam.

Emily brought a bundle of fresh mint into the kitchen and tore it into a pitcher full of ice water, and we sipped and chatted about her childhood and ginger beer and baking huckleberry pies on summer vacation (she in Nelson, me in Tofino) and what to do with all that mint.

“We grew up in a rural area,” she told me, “and so everything we ate came from the garden. My mom would pickle everything – she’d make relishes and pickled beets, and she would get fresh peaches shipped and then can them.”

Although Emily now lives inner-city in a Ramsay duplex, she still grows her own. “It doesn’t have to be big,” she says, looking out into her back yard garden, which overflows with potted tomatoes and cabbages in the back alley. “People cook from where they came from.”

Emily Mint Collage

And so it is that every year, Emily winds up preserving her small harvest and sharing jars with friends and neighbours – or bringing jars to Magnolia Buckskin jams. She

“The great thing about beets is that they’re so resilient,” Emily says, “we plant our garden and then don’t always tend it. And so at the end of the year I’m always giving away jars of preserved beets – pickles and relish and chutney.”

beet chutney Collage

Her brilliant purple beet chutney is divine – try it on a cheese platter, in a grilled cheese sandwich, or alongside grilled or roasted chicken or turkey.

Emily Triggs’ Beet Chutney

8 cups cooked chopped beets
3 cups apples, peeled and chopped
2 big onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup Sultana raisins
2 cups white vinegar
2 1/4 cups white sugar
2 tsp salt

Cook onions in a little vinegar. Add beets, apples, garlic, raisins and cook until soft.

Add the rest of the vinegar, salt and sugar. Cook slowly for 30 minutes at medium heat below a simmer, stirring as it cooks.

Pack beets into hot sterilized jar to within 1/2 inch of top rim when chutney is still hot.

Makes about 6-8 x 500ml jars.

Emily Triggs’ Red Root Relish

Zesty relish in place of horseradish or regular relish! For a finer texture shred the beets.

4 cups prepared beets
4 cups finely chopped cabbage
3 cups white vinegar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped red pepper
1 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
1 Tbsp. pickling salt

Scrub beets, leaving root and 2 inches of stem intact to prevent bleeding. Cover beets with water, boil until tender.

Drain, discard liquid and slip off the skins removing tap root and stems. Dice beets; measure 4 cups.

Combine beets, cabbage, vinegar, sugar, onions, pepper, horseradish and salt in a large stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil; boil gently 10 minutes.

Pack beets into hot sterilized jar to within ½ inch (1cm) of top rim when root relish is still hot.

Makes about 5 x 500ml jars.

Emily’s Mom’s Pickled Beets

10 cups prepared beets
2 1/2 cups white vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. pickling spice (see recipe below)

Scrub beets, leaving root and 2 inches of stem intact to prevent bleeding. Sort beets by size and place beets in saucepan, cover with water and boil until tender.

Drain; discard liquid and slip off the skins removing tap root and stems.

Leave baby beets whole, slice or quarter larger beets. Tie spice mix in a square cheesecloth, creating a spice bag. Combine with vinegar, water and sugar in a stainless steel saucepan.

Bring water a to boil; cover and boil gently for 15 minutes. Discard the spice bag.

Pack beets into hot sterilized jar to 3/4 inch of top rim when beets are still hot. Add hot pickling liquid to cover beets to within 1/2 inch of top rim.

Makes about 5 500 mL jars.

Homemade Pickling Spice

2 Tbsp. mustard seed
1 Tbsp. whole allspice
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 whole cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1 cinnamon stick

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight jar or container. Use in your favorite pickle recipe. Makes 1/3 cup.