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This Harvard Beets recipe is a classic New England side dish that has been around for generations. You’ll love the sweet and sour sauce!

Harvard Beets


I’ve been a beet lover all of my life.  Even as a kid – I loved them! But it was only recently that I ate Harvard Beets for the first time. And clearly – I’ve been missing out!

About a month ago – while brainstorming Fall vegetable recipe ideas – my husband Jack mentioned the idea of sharing a Harvard Beets recipe here on A Family Feast. He kept talking about how much he loves them – and now, I love them too!

Harvard Beets recipe

Harvard Beets are simply beets cooked with sugar, vinegar and butter (plus a few other seasonings). The combination of the sugar and vinegar creates a fantastic sweet and sour sauce that is a wonderful complement to the flavor of the beets. The butter – which gets melted in at the end – adds a luxurious, silky texture to the vibrant, rich sauce.

Harvard Beets are a traditional New England recipe, dating back hundreds of years.  There are two schools of thought as to where the name comes from: Yankee Magazine writes that some history buffs attribute the name to the deep red color of the Harvard Crimson football team at Harvard University. Others say that the dish originated in an English pub called “Harwood” and overtime – through  some name mispronounciations – the name became Harvard Beets.


Harvard Beets

Either way – this dish is fantastic! We recommend making your Harvard Beets with fresh beets, but canned beets would also do in a pinch. In researching this recipe, we also read that some people cook up a big batch of Harvard Beets when their fresh garden beets are harvested in the Fall – then freeze them in smaller portions to reheat and enjoy all winter long.  (We haven’t tried that ourselves – but we love the idea!)

Harvard Beets would be a delicious addition to your Thanksgiving menu – or any special holiday meal!  The sauce will ‘stain’ the other foods on your plate, so we like to serve our Harvard Beets in individual serving dishes as shown.


fresh beets recipe


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Harvard Beets

Harvard Beets

  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 6-8 servings


2 ½ pound fresh red beets, trimmed, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces

1 teaspoon kosher salt for cooking water

1 cup granulated sugar

¼ cup white vinegar

½ cup cider vinegar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, ground fine

½ cup water saved from cooking the beets

2 tablespoons corn starch

6 tablespoons butter


Place beets in cold water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the one teaspoon of salt. Cook for 15 minutes. Ladle off and save ½ cup of cooking water and drain off the rest.

Place beets back in pot along with the sugar, both vinegars, salt and pepper. Stir over medium heat.

Add corn starch to the ½ cup of beet water and stir into beets. Cook for five minutes over medium heat then stir in butter until butter has melted into the sauce.

Remove from heat and serve.

You may also like:

Cara Cara Beet Salad

Cara Cara Beet Salad - A Family Feast


Harvard Beets - Fresh beets in a sweet and sour sauce. So delicious!

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  • Bernadine wrote:

    I was gifted beets from my brother-in-laws garden and have missed my grandmas and moms Harvard beets. I have made from canned beets, but this fresh recipe is EXACTLY what I was looking for. It tastes AWWWmazing

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Bernadine!

  • Wendy wrote:

    For about five years now since my husband and I have been married he’s talked about a recipe his mom used to make with beets that he just loved. So I finally decided I was going to give it a try as she is no longer with us. Well you captured his heart with this recipe! It is DELICIOUS!! Make it just as described — simple and perfect in his opinion. He says it brings back many good memories.

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Wendy…so glad he enjoyed the recipe – especially with such fond memories of your husband’s mom.

  • Joyce Jenkins wrote:

    I’m wondering if these can be canned?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Joyce – Our recipe contains corn starch and from what we’ve read, recipes with corn starch included should not be canned. You may want to reach out to Ball Canning or another canning expert site with additional questions about safe canning practices. Hope that helps.

  • Cathy wrote:

    Delicious delicious delicious. I bought me some golden beets today at the Farmers Market can I make this with them? Or can I mixed the two, red and golden.
    Thank you for your help.

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Cathy – Yes! Either color beet will work…or a mix of the two (although the red beets will definitely color the golden beets…). Enjoy!

  • Gayle wrote:

    When my 4 sons were young I got them to eat beets by making them like this using canned beets because they were much more economical. My youngest who is 32 now still asks for them!
    Love you’re recipes

    • Martha wrote:

      Thank you so much Gayle! This recipe will definitely work with canned beets – glad to see at least one of your sons still likes beets! 🙂

  • Lila Barlow wrote:

    this sounds so easy and good …only thing is 2 1/2 lbs is alot long do they keep in fridge …or is there a way to freeze …or what do you recommend.

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Lila – We haven’t tried freezing the leftover, but you should be able to eat them over a few days and they will still taste just as good. Alternately, feel free to cut the recipe in half if it makes too much! Enjoy!

  • Christa wrote:

    I have a question I hope someone can answer regarding this recipe, could this be served cold? I work in a grocery store and have made many of your recipe for the salad bar I work on, which I make fresh beets for and am always looking for new/delicious recipes for. Thank you!!

    • Jack wrote:

      After we made these, I added them to my salad every day for lunch so absolutely these can be eaten cold. We also have a cold beet salad on our site; Cara Cara beet salad. Most grocery stores sell the Cara Cara oranges which add a bright freshness to the beets and other ingredients.

      Good luck,

  • Linda R wrote:

    Good morning Martha,
    Oh how I love beets….the flavor, color ,texture and the many ways to use them. A good recipe for Harvard Beets is one of my favorite ways to serve them. I sometimes add diced beets to a fresh green salad along with blue cheese and sliced almonds. I always have a jar of pickled beets in the fridge. Now if I could find my old recipe for Borscht, misplaced it years ago….so good.
    I sometimes think beets are one of those foods you either love or hate. I’m with you and Jack, love, love them!! Trying your take on beets this weekend.
    Thanks for sharing

    • Martha wrote:

      Good morning Linda – So glad to read that you are among the beet lovers too! 🙂 We hope you enjoy our version of this recipe! Jack and I have talking about making a Borscht recipe – unfortunately even coming from a Polish family I don’t have an old family recipe to share. But we’ll keep at it! Have a great weekend! Martha

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