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Updated: November 17, 2013 6:06AM

Beets are divisive.

Those who dislike beets frequently cite the “fact” that beets taste like dirt. Those who like beets, as we do, cite the “fact” that beets taste earthy, which is likely the same as saying they taste like dirt…but in a good way.

Beets are one of the more enduring garden items. They start coming up mid-summer and, because they grow underground, they can stay there at least until after the first frost. They keep all winter long in the refrigerator or root cellar.

On a website called, I found a common misconception: “If you don’t like the mess associated with peeling and cooking fresh beets — buy them canned.”

It is completely wrong-headed to think that beets are messy or even that they have to be peeled (with a knife). If you just boil them, you’ll find that they squirt out of their skins. You need neither wash nor peel them. Admittedly, though, this is not a kitchen task you’d want to perform wearing a white shirt.

Beets, treated right, are one of the world’s easiest vegetables to prepare: They’re very forgiving, so unless you leave them on the heat for hours, it’s challenging to overcook them. After cooling, skins slide off ­— and if you work with beets in your kitchen sink, you’ll minimize mess.

I wouldn’t even slice them before serving: beets are beautiful and glistening when served whole, and if you use the boil-and-squirt approach, their exterior remains gorgeous, unmarred by the paring knife.

Here’s a quick recipe:

1. Boil one pound of unwashed, skin-on beets

2. Cool beets and gently squirt out of skins

3. Serve whole (vinegar optional)

— David Hammond

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