By Camille Storch
Though there are more glamorous vegetables this time of year (juicy tomatoes, sweet corn, spicy peppers), summertime is also beet season. One of my favorite ways to enjoy beets is to pickle them. Pickled beets are delicious in fresh salads, but they also offer a taste of warmer weather when the winter sets in again.
Beets are easy to grow. In Oregon, you can sow the seeds directly into the ground anytime between February and August for a main season crop. When they’re about three weeks old, thin out the seedlings, and throw the extra greens into a salad for a little color and flavor. The roots should be mature enough to harvest when they’ve been growing for about two months.
To start this recipe, get yourself some beets. If you don’t have any in your own garden, hit up the farmers’ market. Trim off the greens and scrub the roots. Don’t worry if you have a mixed-size collection.
Steam or boil the beets either whole (longer cooking time but easier to peel) or in bite-size-ish chunks (shorter cooking time if you don’t care about peeling) until they’re tender. Beware that beet juice stains, so use a cutting board that you’re not particularly fond of and wear a red shirt!
While the roots are steaming, thinly slice a couple sweet or storage onions for extra flavor. Figure about one medium onion per 4-6 quarts/8-12 pints of pickled beets.
Sterilize enough pint or quart jars for your desired quantity of pickled beets.
Pack beets and onions into jars. If you opted to cook your beets whole, you will probably need to slice them up a bit to fit them into the jars.
If desired, add some spice mix to each jar; about 1 tablespoon per quart or 1 teaspoon per pint. Pickling spice is a blend of about 10 different herbs and spices (coriander, peppercorns, crushed bay leaves, dill seed, chiles, etc.) that tastes great with beets. If you are particularly motivated, you could mix up your own spice medley, adding or omitting in accordance with your personal preference.
The most important factor with the pickling brine is that you maintain a ratio of 2 parts vinegar (apple cider vinegar is best) to 1 part water. This solution will be your primary preservative. Pour it into a pot, and set it on medium heat.
Add honey to the liquid. Honey is not acting as a preservative in this instance, so use your own judgment for sweetening. Beets have their own natural sugars, but some folks prefer their pickled beets to be VERY sweet. One cup honey to six cups vinegar/water produces an acidic but subtly sweet pickle.
Bring your vinegar-water-honey solution to a rolling boil.
Fill your jars with hot brine, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Add canning lids and lightly screw on rings.
At this point, your pickled beets will be delicious but not shelf stable for the long term. Without canning, you can store them in the refrigerator for a couple months.
If you want or need to preserve them for many months, use conventional boiling water canner processing as per Oregon State University Extension‘s recommendations for pickled beets (30 minutes of boiling in a canning pot).
After you eat a jar of pickled beets, and all you have left is that gorgeous pink brine, you’ve got to try pickled beet eggs. Hard boil and peel a few eggs, re-boil the brine, and then pour the hot brine over the eggs in a jar. Let it sit in the refrigerator for a day or so. The pink will permeated the white of the egg, so they’ll look fabulous and they’ll taste great, too.
Camille Storch is an off-grid mom of two living outside Philomath, Oregon. Her family gets a majority of their fresh food off their modern homestead, which includes a greenhouse approximately six times the size of their home. Camille raises Nubian dairy goats and spends a lot of time culturing some pretty darn good fresh cheeses. She also writes about local ecology, agriculture, and the reality of one family’s modest but joyful life on her blog, Wayward Spark (waywardspark.com).