Harvard Beets

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Appears in

A Canon of Vegetables

A Canon of Vegetables

By Raymond Sokolov

Published 2007

  • About

I don’t think I ate Harvard beets at Harvard, but I was glad to learn, in a recent number of the Harvard University Gazette, that Associate Professor of Psychiatry William A. Carlezon, Jr.’s research has shown that beets can mitigate depression—in rats. Beets contain uridine, a nucleoside that seems to make rodents lively but leaves them indolent when they are deprived of it. Whether this works on humans is not for me to say, but where is the harm in downing beets when you feel blue? Harvard beets are clearly not harmful, but they are a bit gloppy. If this has kept you off them, just leave out the cornstarch. That will also eliminate the mirrorlike sheen of the traditional sauce but will not affect the sweet-and-sour flavor that defines the dish.


  • 8 medium trimmed beets
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional)
  • 3 cloves
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter


  1. Boil the beets until fork-tender, about 30 minutes or possibly more if they are large or old. Let cool, peel, and slice.
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients (cornstarch optional) in a 6-cup saucepan. Simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring. Add the beets. Continue simmering until the beets are heated through and the sauce has taken on their color. Remove the cloves and serve.

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