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Harvard Beets



I think you have cottoned on now to my love LOVE of beetroot.  If you haven't, then you haven't been reading my blog for long enough.  I quite simply adore beets.   A week ago I was gifted with some lovely beetroot by a friend! We thoroughly enjoyed them!  I have been trying to spread my beetroot posts out so that you don't get them all in one week, so here is the last of my beetroot posts!


Harvard Beets has to be one of my absolute ways of enjoying beetroot. Back where I come from in Canada, you can buy tins of Harvard Beets in the vegetable aisles and I always used to have several tins of them in the cupboard during the winter months for whenever a craving hit me!


Homemade are infinitely better however!  They are somewhat of a New England tradition, New England being the North Eastern States of America . . .  consisting of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachussets.  I guess it is only natural that they would also be popular in Nova Scotia seeing as they are very close to each other. 


So what is the actual history of Harvard Beets? How did they begin? We can't really say for sure. Some say they earned the name for the way their deep red color mimicked the Harvard Crimson football jersey hue. Others say they originated in a tavern in England named “Harwood” and somewhere along the way the name was mispronounced in America until it became “Harvard.”  So you see, there is a somewhat, if ambiguous, English connection . . .  which totally justifies me sharing the recipe here!


Originally the beets were cooked only in a sauce made from vinegar and sugar.  The addition of cornflour (cornstarch) to thicken the sauce is definitely a 20th century addition.  I think I would love them either way.  My recipe comes from the Fanny Farmer Cooking School Cookery Book, 1975 Edition.


This is one of the books I cut my culinary teeth on and I have worn out three copies through the years, my later ones having been edited by the late Marion Cunningham.  Its just the best cookbook and one I have turned to again and again through the years.  The Harvard Beet Recipe is the best.



*Harvard Beets*
Serves 4

Tender cubes of beetroot in a delicious sweet and sour sauce. 

50g sugar (1/4 cup)
1 tsp cornflour (cornstarch)
30ml cider vinegar (1/8 cup)
30ml water (1/8 cup)
3 medium beetroots, cooked and cubed (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 TBS butter
salt and pepper to taste 

Whisk the sugar and cornflour together in a small saucepan.  Whisk in the vinegar and water.  Bring to the boil, whisking continuously, and then boil for 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked beetroot.  Let stand for half an hour.  Add the butter and reheat to the boiling point.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately.


Fannie Farmer was a New England woman who wrote the original Boston Cooking School Cookery Book as it was known at first,  in 1896. It was the first cookbook of its kind, introducing standardized measurements at a time when nobody used them, and was considered to be a very comprehensive book, including essays on housekeeping, canning, cleaning, canning and drying fruits, and nutritional information.  At first the publisher Little & Brown did not expect that it would do very well and so it was published at Ms Farmer's own expense. The book was so popular in America, so thorough, and so comprehensive that cooks would refer to later editions simply as the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, and it is still available in print over 100 years later.  If you don't have a copy, I highly recommend you get one!  I don't think you will ever regret adding this to your cooking library.  Like I said, I have worn out three copies!  In any case, I hope you will try Harvard Beets and enjoy them as much as we do!  Bon Appetit!

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Marie Rayner
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17 comments:

  1. I like beets but not the taste of vinegar. My family would like them though.

    This is one cookbook that I never got. My Mom prob has it. Next time I go over my parents house, I'll have to look.
    Big Hugs!

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    1. These don't taste really vinegary, but I get yoru point Jan! We all have our quirks! You need this cookbook! xo

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  2. Nvere even heard of these Marie ..thanks..my family was always just a pickled beet family..I loved my mom's best:)

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    1. I love pickled beets too Monique. I love them with cloves in the vinegar mix. Rats now I am craving pickled beets! Do you ever make them using your mom's recipe? Would love to try it! xo

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  3. Would like to know, how do you cook your beet root?

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    1. Hi Susan! For these I just boiled my beetroot first. Wash and trim the beetroot, but do not peel. I leave about 1 inch of stem and all of the root intact. Place in a large saucepan and cover with 1 inch of water. Bring to the boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until just tender, about 30 to 40 minutes depending on size. You can test the tenderness with the tip of a knife. Let cool until you can comfortably hand them, peel, trim and cut into cubes. Hope this helps!

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    2. PS - That is comfortably "handle" them! Also, if you don't like dying your hands you can wear disposable latex gloves. Pink hands have never bothered me much!

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  4. One of my childhood memories, Marie. (I grew up in PA) My husband and I enjoy beets, and I make Harvard Beets when I remember to or looking for something different from the normal vegetables such as pea, corn, and green beans. It's nice to have an exact recipe, as I usually just "throw in" some vinegar, sugar and cornstarch. lol

    I grew beets in my garden this summer, and in fact probably have a half bushel in my refrigerator waiting for me to can. I usually make most of them into pickled beets. ~Elaine

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    1. Hi Elaine! You are a girl after my own heart! I am not sure. Is PA considered a part of New England? I adore pickled beets. Was not gifted with enough to do them, but did so enjoy the ones that I was given. All gone now! *sniff *sniff!

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  5. Hi Marie, I live in Canada and I bought my first tin of beets about two weeks ago. I get it home and wonder... now what do I do with it? Would your recipe turn out using my tin of beets? What do you think?

    I have only ever eaten Bicks pickled beets. And crazy about that. I figured it was time to try something new. Thanks!

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    1. It would Patricia! Any cooked beet would work. Just drain them really well and pat them dry! I hope you enjoy them! xo

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  6. Harvard Beets are nice, but have you ever had Pickled Beet Eggs???? I also grew up in PA (Pennsylvania) where 'Beet Eggs' were popular. I still love them for a quick snack, on a salad, or a protein boost before the gym. LOVE LOVE LOVE them. Basically, your favorite pickled beet recipe (hot), hard boiled eggs (just boiled & peeled) together in a big jar, refrigerate for at least 2 days and then enjoy!!!

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    1. Mmmm... they sound great! I must try them! Xo

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  7. HMMMMM YUM! Great photos, those beets look so delicious! I'm going to subscribe! Check out my blog if you love beets, I posted my dad's recipe "Harold's nutty beets" and I don't want to boast but he's a really good cook when it comes to vegetables from his garden!

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    1. Thanks Alex. I will be sure to check them out. Sounds delicious!

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  8. Great recipe for one of my all time favorite dishes -- thank you, Marie! Have you any advice about preserving Harvard Beets by the water processing method? I am wondering if the vinegar is enough to acidify them, and if using ClearJel instead of cornstarch will make them safe. I'd appreciate your thoughts.

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    1. Hi Anne, Beetroot has such a low PH level that I don't believe it is safe to preserve them using a water bath canner. There would not be enough vinegar in the recipe to acidify them. You can however freeze cooked beetroot quite successfully and then thaw to use in recipes such as Havard Beets. Beets need to be cooked until tender before freezing and can be cut into cubes or slices before packing into freezer containers. Leave a 1/2 inch of head space. Seal, label, and freeze. Beets require pressure processing if they are to be canned. Hope this helps! xo

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