“What?” my mother replied. “There really isn’t a recipe.”
I suppose a good Pennsylvania Dutch girl would have been born knowing how to make them, or have learned as a young child by watching by her mother’s side. And I certainly might have, if I hadn’t been out catching frogs instead. But I had to ask as an adult, and I did manage to extract a vague recipe from my mom.
Red beet eggs are an acquired taste, like Chinese tea eggs (for which I can’t seem to acquire a taste). My daughter likes them, my husband humours me, and my son refuses to eat them. For me, though, they all but define summer. Their improbable colour, rubbery texture, and sweet/sour flavours, along with the pickled beets (which I actually prefer to the eggs themselves), always hit the spot on a hot summer day.
And I know they are memorable. My husband’s grandfather apparently spent some time in Pennsylvania as a young child. When I met him in his 90s, he still remembered the red beet eggs. (I almost said he “fondly” remembered them, but I really don’t know if it was a fond memory or not—as I said, they are an acquired taste).
A quick Google search turns up dozens of red beet eggs recipes, all of them different. Some include onion, pickling spices, cinnamon or cloves to add flavour. Some specify cider vinegar, others specify white. Some use white sugar, others brown. I like to believe that what my mother told me is true—there really isn’t a recipe. Red beet eggs are simply a cultural phenomenon—there’s no explaining them, no defining them. You either know how to make them or you don’t.