German Beets from 19th Century San Francisco

I was in the San Francisco Bay Area in early January, visiting my dear friend from way back, Victoria. I wanted an old recipe to try out for a dinner party at Victoria’s, featuring an ingredient that I could buy that morning at the Oakland farmers market. I knew I would find beets in the market, so I looked in Vintage California Cuisine for a beet recipe.Stewed Beets, Hanoverian Style

The one I settled upon is from an appropriate source for a Bay Area dinner party, The Physiology of Taste: Harder’s Book of Practical American Cookery, published in 1885 by Jules Arthur Harder, chef de cuisine at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel. Harder’s encyclopedic cookbook covered the culinary uses of more than 300 different herbs, fruits and vegetables, in an array of styles from places ranging from Macedonia and Palestine to Turkey and Brazil.

I have previously reported on my experiments with Harder’s Sweet Potato Fritters and Stewed Carrots, Indian Style. I cooked his Stewed Beets, Hanoverian Style for the dinner party at Victoria’s, where by general consensus it was pronounced outstanding. In a quick search of the Internet and some of the cookbooks on my shelves, I found only a smattering of recipes that combined butter and vinegar to flavor beets as this recipe does. It’s a great combination, yielding a dish of warm, tangy, buttery beets with crunchy lightly pickled onions.

Here’s the recipe:

Stewed Beets, Hanoverian Style

Boil one dozen ordinary sized Beets, and when done skin and slice them. Put into a saucepan one fine chopped onion with a piece of butter. Fry it lightly and then add a wine-glassful of vinegar. When it boils add the sliced beets and 4 ounces of butter. Season with salt and pepper. Toss them over occasionally until thoroughly warmed and before serving add some fine chopped parsley.

 Source: The Physiology of Taste: Harder’s Book
of Practical American Cookery

Stewed Beets, Hanoverian StyleI made the dish at Victoria’s (at left) with a pink variety of beets that I bought at the Sunday farmers market in Oakland’s Jack London Square. I tried the recipe again (photo at top) now that I’m back home in Philadelphia. This time, I used a darker purple variety of beets. I also had some parsley on hand so that I could properly garnish the beets as Harder instructed 128 years ago.

About Mark

Mark Thompson, who currently resides in Philadelphia, writes about law, history and food, among other topics. American Character, his biography of Charles Lummis, an Indian rights activist who lived in California and the Southwest from the 1880s through the 1920s, was honored by Western Writers of America in 2002 with a Spur Award for best biography. His second book, Vintage California Cuisine, traces the origins of the state's unique culinary sensibility to the earliest cookbooks published in California. Thompson also publishes a web site called, about farmers markets and seasonal produce. He has written for dozens of publications including the Atlantic, The New Republic, the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times.
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