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Thursday, April 23, 2009

How to Pickle Beets

Last night I spent 5 hot hours in the kitchen pickling the beets. Luckily my kitchen TV kept me entertained and my wooden stool kept my somewhat comfortable (but how comfortable can a pregnant lady be in a hot kitchen for 5 hours?).

Here's the classic pickled beet recipe and procedure:
  1. Sterilize your pint or quart jars in the dishwasher. Don't wash them with any other dirty dishes. Use the heated drying option, too.
  2. Wash the beets in cold water. Make sure to keep the root and at least 2" of stem/leaves on top to prevent excess bleeding (of the beets, not you). Scrub them with a brush if you need to, but don't be too rough with them. Keep in mind that you'll be peeling them so a little dirt won't hurt.
  3. Fill a wash basin or sink with hot tap water and put your washed beets in. This will pre-warm your beets and help the boiling processes along since they won't cool the pot of water down so much.
  4. Boil the beets for ~20 minutes or until they are slightly fork tender.
  5. Cool them immediately in a sink of cold water. Then slip the skins off with your hands and trim the roots and tops with a knife.
  6. Admire your pretty bowl of beets. Here I have chioggia beets (the light ones) and standard reds.
  7. Make your pickling brine. For a five gallon bucket of untrimmed, fresh-from-the-garden beets, use about 2 jugs of apple cider vinegar with 16 cups of sugar, 8 teaspoons each of whole cloves and whole anise berries, and 20 cinnamon sticks (more or less; the spices can vary in quantity). Bring this solution to a boil then let simmer while you get everything else ready to go. Remember that the longer you let it simmer, the more flavorful your pickling brine will be. (In my opinion, the longer the better!)
  8. Sterilize your canning jar lids. There are various methods, but I like to bring a pan of water to a boil, add my lids (brand new), then shut off the heat and let them simmer there for several minutes. The package warns you not to boil the lids. I think this is because it can toughen the rubber material and they won't seal properly...leading, in many cases (not acidic beets, though), to spoiled food.
  9. Slice or dice your beets into uniform pieces and pack into your sterilized jars. I don't literally "pack" them in, but rather just dump them in until they reach the neck of the jar. Since mine are diced there is plenty of room for brine. If you choose to slice them, they might pack more densely, in which case you'll want to avoid filling the jars all the way to the top to allow enough room for brine. For fun, I decided to keep my light and dark beets separate but you certainly don't have to.
  10. Turn the heat off on your brine. Using a sieve, fish out the spices.
  11. Pour the hot brine into the jars, allowing about 1/4" of head space.
  12. Using a damp paper towel or clean rag, wipe the tops of the jars to remove any debris or sticky brine. This helps ensure a good seal will form when you process them.
  13. Place the lids on the jars and screw the bands on finger tight. Then lower them into a HUGE pot of hot water. Add enough water so that there is at least 1-2" of water above the jars. Then bring the pot to a boil and keep it boiling for 30 minutes. This is called a water bath and is used for canning applesauce and tomatoes, too (anything sufficiently acidic so that it doesn't require pressure canning). It is a great method because it doesn't require any special tools or equipment.
  14. Carefully remove the jars from the water. NOTE: Don't tip the jars to the side when removing them from the water bath. The brine will still be boiling in the jars at this point and because the lids haven't sealed down onto the jars yet (this happens as they cool on the counter), some of it might spill out. This compromises the eventual seal (remember why you did step 12?).
  15. Let the jars cool on the counter over night. NOTE: Do not touch the lids, as you might push them down. As they cool you will hear a lovely "ping" sound. That sound indicates that the lids have sealed. If you push the lid down you won't know for sure that it has sealed.
  16. Store the beets in a dark place for at least 6-8 weeks before opening and eating them. They'll last pretty much forever but probably won't last that long once you taste how yummy they are!

11 comments:

Rob said...

Those look delicious! Tina and I love pickled beets. We'll have to do this when we have a garden of our own.

Beth said...

Can you tell me what you mean by jug of vinegar? They come in a couple of sizes. I'm getting ready to pull up all my beets and have a canning day tomorrow, and appreciate your detailed and illustrated instructions.

The Bowers! said...

Hi Beth, the jug of vinegar is 1 gallon in size. So for this recipe I used 2 gallons of vinegar for roughly 5 gallons of beets. I hope that helps. Good luck!

Laura-Jane - Whimfield said...

Fabulous directions, complete with pictures... Thanks so much!

odiddlydee said...

thank you for these great instructions! i've been wanting to pickle beets for some time now but had trouble finding a comprehensive guide.
i added some garlic & ginger to the simmering concoction... can hardly wait to taste these beets!

bigfatdragon said...

hi there! just visiting as it's beet season and I wanted to try my hand at pickling. Thanks for the tips!

angieM said...

I used this recipe for my beets. So far everything has turned out great. This was my first time with beets, and I cannot wait to taste them after the 6-8week waiting time. I followed everything exactly except I changed some of the spices a little. I had lots of left over brine and noticed that your pics had some also. So, I canned the extra brine. Do you have suggestions for what to do with the canned brine?

angieM said...

Also, I wanted to tell you that we did, as the recipe directs, "admire" our bowl of beets. :)

The Bowers! said...

Angie: I have used my extra brine for making salad dressing and for quick-pickling sliced veggies to go with grilled meats or Japanese soups (as opposed to using store-bought "seasoned" vinegar). Just slice/julienne some carrots, cucumbers, radish, etc. and let them soak in the brine for at least 2 hours before eating them. These pickled veggies are still crunchy since you're not cooking them in the brine.

ncredbird said...

I am planning the garden for this season and want to grow some beets for pickling. Was considering the Chioggia variety because of it's interesting coloration but also would like some feedback as to it's flavor. Also if you mix the red ones with the Chioggia variety do they color the white rings pink? Thanks, Ann in TN

The Bowers! said...

The chioggia beets will turn reddish pink completely if you can then with red beets. And if you can them alone (as I did in this post), they turn a pale pink...I think the vinegar causes the redness to bleed into the brine solution so they lose their pretty stripped appearance. I didn't realize it at the time.

I could be wrong, but they seem to have a more mild "beet" flavor overall when you just sautee them up, as compared to the red beets.