When Colours Run Riot

There was a phase in the 1970s when interior design ran riot. I remember my grandpa announcing proudly that he’d decorated the walls of his small front room with four wildly different wallpapers and picked out the woodwork in egg-yolk yellow.

I thought of my grandpa as I walked around David Hockney’s new exhibition A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy in London. The exhibition is vast and overwhelming and throbs with wild colours and patterns. It’s generous, showy and utterly independent in spirit and yet it’s meticulous and somehow dogged too – qualities that pretty much sum up my grandpa.

Walking through Oxford’s University Parks later that day, I felt somehow let down that the winter branches didn’t have the vibrancy of David Hockney’s trees.

But turning 180 degrees so that the sun was shining on the trunks, the colours jumped into life. I got a whole new perspective. And if that’s not a metaphor for life, I don’t know what is.

Muted, restrained food is the last thing I wanted after the Hockney tidal wave. I craved the idea of eating a riot of colour. When in that mood and at this time of year, there’s really only one choice – full throttle, lip-staining, finger-smearing, red and yellow beetroots. I found a bag of just such a thing for half price at Wholefoods, along with a silver foil hickory smoker from Finland for £2.29.

I have a disastrous record at home-smoking. The last time I tried we had to evacuate the house. But I figured I’d be safe in the hands of the Finns. If you want a really strong smokey flavour, this bag will disappoint you. But for a delicate hint of smoke, without the need for a full evacuation plan, this bag works fine.


Serves 4

  • 2 red and 2 golden beetroot
  • 4 small red onions
  • Salad leaves
  • Goat’s curd
  • 1 head garlic
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Bunch thyme
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Blackberry vinegar – I bought mine from Womersley Foods
  • 1 disposable foil smoker – bought from Wholefoods for £2.29

Wash the beetroot, but don’t bother to peel them. Slice into rounds about 1.5 to 2 cm thick. Peel the onions but leave whole. Toss the beetroot, onions, whole head of garlic and thyme in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, season and place in a single layer inside the foil smoker. Seal the foil and place in a pre-heated oven at 250 degrees C. After 15 minutes turn the heat down to 190 degrees C. Cook for a further 45 minutes. Remove the package from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before cutting open the foil. Peel the beetroot and slice into thinnish circles.

Make a salad dressing from a little olive oil, blackberry vinegar and seasoning and dress the salad leaves. Pile the beetroot, onions and scoops of goat’s curd over the leaves and trickle over a little of the balsamic and olive oil from the smoker. After its hour of baking, the garlic will be rich, sweet and unctuous – perfect when spread on a little sourdough bread.

 I ate my riotous salad and bread with beetroot soup that I made by baking beetroots and apples for an hour and blending with vegetable stock and a little grated fresh horseradish.

apple on a plate

My grandpa was wild with his colour schemes but exceptionally timid in his tastes. He would have hated this recipe. But he would have loved the ideas that lie behind it, and that’s good enough for me.



  1. I don’t think I’ve ever seen golden beetroot, how lovely. I’m sure Hockney would love it. (They’re building a Wholefoods near here, so maybe I’ll up my game after it opens!)
    I’ve just been reading that if you look at the yellow highlights of snow, then at a dark tree trunk, it will seem momentarily blue – so it seems there’s science as well as madness in his wild colours. Not that I’m really wishing for snow to test the theory.

    1. I was brought up on bottled beetroot in vinegar. I bet Hockney was too. Perhaps that’s where his love for purple – and blue – tree trunks comes from.

    1. Thank you so much, Jakey… I like the phrase ‘Classic Eggs on the Roof’ – it sounds very statesmanlike

  2. Charlie, just thought I would look at ‘Eggs On The Roof’ after seeing something on facebook. It’s so wonderful and inspiring- I might even start cooking (the boys will faint with shock)!!! Hope you a well and see you very soon, Dulce XXXXXXX

    1. What a lovely surprise, Dulcie! It’s so good to hear from you and I hope you start cooking, even if the boys collapse in shock x

  3. That’s very reassuring: remembering what my bedroom looked like in the 70’s, I thought it was my taste running riot but clearly I was in tune with the times. The beetroot soup sounds wonderful.

    1. I still find it hard to believe that we let the 70s go by without complaining. The soup is good, by the way. In the 70s we would probably have called it bistro food.

  4. Oh I envy you – I’m a huge fan of Hockney. I love the way he observes life. I have a beautiful book of his work and one of my favourite pieces is a drawing of an ashtray! I also love the huge photo-montages he did. I don’t think I’ve ever home-smoked anything, but now tempted to try….smoked garlic, mmmmmm.

    1. There are a couple of photo-montages in the exhibition, along with some beautiful and very detailed charcoal drawings. I’ve never seen Hockney’s charcoal work before – very different, but very beautiful.

  5. I would have loved to see your grandpa’s home! When we finally purchased our first and own home after only renting… we selected charcoal gray, apple green, raspberry, brick, burnt orange, sage and apple red to paint the rooms and it was a riot of color and extraordinary! It really makes life vibrant and fun! Now we are renting again and back to dirty white which is sad. Life should be full of wild color! And this salad is gorgeous (as is the photo of the colors in the park!) and the flavors sound just as colorful! Love everything smoked. Your posts are always so thought provoking…

    1. I love the sound of your colour-scheme and my grandpa would definitely have approved. Thank you so much, Jamie, for your comments. They are, to repay the compliment, always thought provoking…

    1. I’ve recently changed from Blogger to WordPress. I wonder if that’s why the RSS feed died a death. Anyway, it’s lovely to hear from you…

    1. All I can say Claire is that I am delighted you’re charmed by my posts. I do at least know who I am, although I can’t tell you how you found me! Thank you so much for leaving a comment – I appreciate it very much

  6. never been a great fan of beetroot before but this does look intriguing, I must try this out sometime!!

    1. If you dare make it Boinsey, let me know what you think. I can’t promise to change you into a beetroot fan, but I’d like to try

  7. Lovely looking meal. So healthy as well! Memories of Grandfathers are good. Mine was an author of technical books, mainly about pre-jet airplanes. When I was 11, he gave me a copy of “How to service your car”. I thought it was marvellous!

    1. What a fantastically useful as well as interesting present, Lynne. Your grandfather sounds wonderful.

  8. I think I might paste your metaphor about the trees above my desk and ponder it on a daily basis. Wonderful. Also love the recipe – a combination of flavours that work so well together. I’m a latecomer to the beet party but find it irresistible with goat’s cheese of any description.

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