26 July 2011

How to Pickle Beets

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).

10 Responses

  1. Pingback : Blog Resolutions « Portland Farmers Market Blog

  2. Pickled beets are yummy and are a staple at our house. For decades I have used my mother’s recipe. I boil the beets until tender, then drain them, then cover them with icy cold water. When they cool, I slip their skins off with my fingers, then slice them into ¼” slices and put them into sterilized jars. I then fill the jars with boiling-hot liquid made of 1:1 mixture of vinegar and sugar, leaving ½” space at the top, then loosely attach sterilized jar lids and rings. I water bath the jars for twenty to thirty minutes, remove them onto the counter and then tighten the lids after cooling. If you prefer, use your pressure cooker, following your user’s guide.

  3. Mika

    Not really “off the grid” if you are posting and writing for internet blogs.. thats about as “on the grid” as you can get!–Still a yummy recipe, but please know your terminology.

  4. Roger Priddle

    Hmm. Mika – I hate to pick nits but the phrase “off the grid” implies that the individual does not buy electricity from a public utility (“power grid”), that they generate their own power.

    It does not mean that they are some weird survivalist living on a mountain with no contact with the rest of the species. I know – my house is off-grid, yet I found this looking for a recipe to pickle beets and my wife just printed off the recipe on the laser printer. (And I’m 120km from a city of 3 million people.)

    IOW, we use electricity – we’re just not responsible for damming the river or burning the fossil fuel or creating radioactive waste that will be deadly for 250,000 years.

    I do know that some people use the phrase to also mean living completely out of touch with civilization – no phone, no bank account, no postal address – and one use was first and the other is a metaphor, but at this point I suspect living without utility-generated electricity is the more common usage.

    As for the beet recipe, my wife’s calling me to go help in the kitchen – I’ll report back when they’re cooked and tasted!

    Meanwhile, here’s a different question. What does the community know about pressure canners? Everything I’ve done has been water-bath. We’re talking about buying one, and I guess the act of canning is similar from one pressure canner to another, but how does one choose which of the various brands to buy? Are there “features” that differentiate one from another?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.