I’m Telling You—Red Beets

Family traditions come from all sorts of places and situations. I was thinking about this at the grocery store when I saw a bag of red strawberry licorice candies. My family always grabbed one of those when we were going on a road trip. I don’t know why it started—probably only because it was a favorite Dad, Mom and I all shared. But isn’t that how it is about lots of different family traditions? Some we know the origins of. Some, we don’t.

The licorice got me thinking about another family tradition from my maternal grandmother’s side of the family. I hope I remember the details Mom relayed to me the last time we made this together.

My grandma was the baby in a family full of children. Because the family was large, there wasn’t always a lot of extra money around, especially if the vegetable crops my great-grandfather grew were on the thin side. He would take these vegetables the three and a half miles into town to sell at the local farmer’s market to try to get money to feed and clothe his family.

One vegetable he usual had an abundance of was red beets. Sometimes he’d have them to sell by the bushel-full. Often, his main beet customer was a Russian man in town. He would often buy the entire bushel from Great-Grandpa.

Over time, and many beet transactions, Great-Grandpa finally asked the man what he did with all of the beets he bought. His response:  his wife used them in soup.

Now, it’s likely that the Russian man’s wife was using beet after beet to make borscht. We see that in hindsight. But my great-grandparents didn’t know what borscht was. So together they concluded that the beets must go into vegetable soup—beef vegetable soup, more specifically.

The rest is history. Grandma grew up with beets in the vegetable soup. My mom did as well, and they passed the habit on to me. And it’s so good—like extra sweetness the carrots in there just can’t match. Be careful if you try it though—too many beets and the whole soup turns sort of magenta-colored and too many can be overpowering anyway. I highly recommend it just the same.

But back to the point.  This is one of the few family traditions I know the story of. Other ones—like why my mom and her cousins put potato chips in sandwiches—I have no idea about how they began, or I don’t remember the story anymore.

But what traditions does your family have that makes your experience unique? Would it make it more special to you if you asked someone about how it started? Or do you know the story of how something began that you can share with another family member?

Sharing traditions not only gives us activities to share with our loved ones and create memories around, but they remind us of the roots we all sprung from. They give us more of a sense of self and of worth.

And sometimes, more of taste for red beets.

Marcie Herman Riebe

Marcie is a bilingual caseworker by day, a university adjunct by night, and an aspiring writer at times in between. An import to NEPA, she has been active in the arts for many years from theatre to forensics to music. Her interest in the arts continues as founder of Ink, an area writer's group, a founding member of Voce Angeli (NEPA's only all-female chamber choir), and as a columnist for Thirty-Third Wheel. She loves all things Pittsburgh, particularly the University of Pittsburgh where she earned her Master of Arts in Linguistics. She lives in Scranton with her handsome husband, Pete, and their horde of cats: Napoleon, King Ajax, Sam, and Dean.

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