This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
The Beet of our kitchen gardens is of the Goosefoot tribe, and derived from the Sea Beet, which grows plentifully about English coasts. Its name originated through a fancied resemblance borne by its seed vessels, when swollen with seed, to the Greek letter B. Therefore, "The Greeks gave its name to the Beet from their alphabet's second letter' As an Attic teacher would write the same on wax with a sharp stiletto.',
The Mangel Wurzel, also a variety of Beet, means literally, "Scarcity root".
Occasionally the leaves of the Sea Beet (which is slender-rooted) are cooked as "greens"for the table. Beet root contains a large amount of cane sugar, especially in the large white "Sugar beet," from the roots of which plant Beet-root sugar is extensively manufactured in France, Germany, and some other countries. The ordinary red garden Beet root contains nearly as much sugar as the Sugar beet; but in the process of cooking for table, a considerable quantity of this soluble sugar is lost, so that the garden Beet when boiled does not contain more sugar than three per cent; but its root is richer in cellulose than most other tubers. An addition of vinegar to slices of red Beet root softens the fibrous tissue, and increases its digestibility; but it does not interfere with the cane sugar which is abundantly present. To persons of a certain age Beet root boiled is very indigestible, or rather they do not digest it at all. It is not the sugar pulp which thus proves a difficulty, but the porous network which resists the action of the. gastric juice.
Therefore, when the root is reduced to a puree, almost any person may eat it, though in the process of cooking much of the sugar is sacrificed.
This root is helpful against some derangements of the womb's functions; whilst the white Beet is laxative, and will stimulate an increased flow of urine. Though Beet-root sugar, and cane sugar, are chemically identical when pure (which they never are), yet commercially, and for culinary flavour, they differ in two important respects. First, the Beet sugar contains more extractives in the form of alkaline carbonates, many of these having a powerful, and characteristic taste which cannot be dispelled; and therefore it is that an infusion of tea, when sweetened with beet sugar containing such alkaline carbonates, is not in character, and flavour the same beverage as that made with a sugar free from this admixture. A like effect is found in coffee, and in several other sweetened drinks. Next, Beet-root molasses contains more extractives than cane molasses, and its ash gives more of the oxides of soda and potash; so that cane sugar is on the whole a superior article to Beet-root sugar.
The Beet is characterized by a large percentage of sugar, mucilage, starch, and alkaline salts, especially of soda. A pleasant wine may be made from the roots; and the juice thereof when applied to the skin of the face is an excellent cosmetic. Sometimes the root bears the name of Betterave. Baked beets are capital for the table. A Russian dinner generally begins with Bortch, which is the national soup, and the Russian is as proud of it as is the Englishman of roast beef. This is of a deep red colour, being made from Beet root, but having a "stock of treasures hidden in its depths; onions, perhaps, are swimming on the top, and beneath the surface tomatoes are not improbably concealed, with - at the bottom - a chop, succulent as a young chicken; while as an additional zest the waiter brings a tureen which contains sour cream, to be eaten with the soup." It is quite possible to make a whole meal of "bortch"soup, with vegetables, and meat in it; or this is therefore much liked as a first course at dinner on a Saint's day, after a rigorous fast. For Bortch soup "Bake four beets; peel, slice, and put into good stock; boil for half an hour.
Bub down three raw beets with about one tablespoonful of vinegar, and a little water; pass all through a sieve; when ready to serve add one glass of Madeira wine, with cayenne, and salt to taste".