Pickled Beets, CB Style

What do you do when you come to the horrible realization that you have, indeed, bought too much produce (again) and there is no possible way that you could bring yourself to eat one more dish of that particular type of produce (AGAIN) but you don’t want to throw it out because that just seems like a wretched and despicable thing to do?  WELL?  WHAT DO YOU DO?!  I mean that…I’m looking for ideas here….

Last week I bought a goodly number of beets at the farmer’s market.  In the last two posts I referred to this as a ‘bushel’ of beets.  Apparently that’s because I don’t know units of measurement.  According to this article, a bushel is significantly more than I would ever dream of buying.  Actually, having that much produce would be less of a dream and more of a nightmare.  My creativity only goes so far.  Anyway, I apologize for my heinously vile lies that have shaken your confidence in my sanity and ability to count.  I merely bought ‘a very large basket’ of beets.  There.  I have that off my conscience once and for all.

I will also freely admit that I had ulterior motives with these beets, and my intention from the get go was to pickle at least a third of them.  Pickled beets are a weakness of mine.  Well, pickled anything is a weakness of mine.  I can sit in front of the television with a jar of gherkins and a fork and be happy as a clam with my little snack.  If I was given the opportunity to have a hand in things during the creation of the universe, I would have ensured that a plate of cheese, crackers and assorted pickles was a perfectly balanced meal.  Ooh, better yet:  DIET FOOD.  Yes.  If only someone had asked me….

Pickled Beets, CB Style

  • 4 lbs beets
  • 1 tbsp pickling spice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp dried dill weed

Other equipment:

  • 3 quart size Mason jars
  • 1 big pot *
  • 1 really big pot with a rack in the bottom **

* Big enough to hold your beets and boil ’em rotten.

** Big enough to hold the 3 rather large Mason jars on a wire rack.

Before you begin:

1.  You may want to change out of your glad rags and into that old pair of dungarees that you keep around purely for the purposes of painting and gardening.  Beet juice is rather insidious, and stains everything it comes in contact with.  Don’t let that list include your new cream cashmere sweater.

2.  Sterilize your jars.  This can be done by boiling them for half an hour, letting them drain open side down on a clean towel, and using them as soon as possible afterwards.  However, I am slightly paranoid about bacterial contamination (yes, I blame that on my science teacher father) and I don’t feel confident in my abilities to do an adequate job on this step.  Also, I am lazy.  Very, very lazy.  I prefer to put the clean jars in the dishwasher and run a cycle (without soap) on the ‘sterilize’ setting.  I leave them in there with the door sealed until I’m ready for them to be used.  I’ve also read that you can cook them in the oven for 20 minutes, but I get nervous about shattered glass.  I’m a very nervous person.  That’s just my way of being.

3.  Double check to make sure that your really big pot is large enough to hold the 3 jars comfortably while immersing them in water.

4.  Brush up on food safety in pickling and canning.  These are a few good resources:

US Dept. of Agriculture Complete Guide to Home Canning

Clemson Food Safety & Preparation

The Green Guide

Beets, as a root vegetable grown in soil, are quite appreciative of getting a good bath.  Scrub them up nicely and then cut off the root tip and the stumpy top where the greens were growing.

Look at them!  Eager and waiting!  I think that they’re anticipating this new stage of their life as much as I am.

Put the beets in a large pot with enough water to cover them and set it to a boil.  It will likely take about 30 – 45 minutes of boiling until they are tender, depending on the size of the beets.  You can do the fork test, taking them off the heat when you can spear them without too much resistance.

After the beets have cooked, take them out of the liquid (but don’t throw it out!) and peel the tough skin off of them.  May I offer you a suggestion?  Okay then, may I offer you two suggestions?

1.  Wear gloves, unless you would like to advertise the fact that you have an affinity for playing with beets.

2.  Scraping with the side of a regular old spoon is the most effective way that I have found to skin them.

Beet water is just so pretty, it really is.  This beat water juice is also probably rather dirty and riddled with little stray beet hairs and bits of beetiness that freed themselves during the cooking process.  In the interest of removing that, strain the beet juice through a lined sieve.  You could use a few layers of cheese cloth or muslin, but I like the cheap and cheerful option of using coffee filters that are cut to fit. 

It may pain you to do this, but pour off all but 6 cups of that gorgeous jewel toned liquid.  Yup, just discard it.  Or use it to tie-dye pillowcases.  Whatever floats your boat.  There will be leftover liquid at the end, but you don’t want the brine to be too diluted.  I like pickled beets that make the bow pucker and the taste buds quake in a fit of masochistic glee. 

Put the 6 cups of beet juice back on the heat until it comes to a simmer, and add the sugar, salt and white vinegar.

Continue adding 1 tbsp of pickling spice and 2 tbsp of dried dill.  Let the mixture come to a boil for just 5 minutes and then turn the heat off again.

Divide the beets among the 3 jars.  If you used larger beets you may wish to cut some (or all) of them in half so that they fit better.  Use a funnel to fill the rest of the jar up with the vinegar liquid, filling until 1/2 inch from the top of the lip.  Don’t mind the jar of pickled green tomatoes in the background, I was multitasking at the time.

“Process” the jars in a hot water bath.  This means immersing the jars in water and boiling them to change the pressure and seal the containers.  It also kills off any pesky bacteria that could have collected on the outside of the jars when we weren’t looking. 

There should be a rack in the bottom the canning pot which prevents the jars from sitting directly on the bottom.  If you do not have a canning rack, you can use another wire rack or something similar that will elevate the surface just slightly.

The jars are large and should be processed for 20 – 30 minutes. 

Carefully lift the jars out of the water bath and let them cool on a counter for 24 hours.  Sometimes you will hear the lids let out a wee little “*pop*” when they’re on the counter, but not always.  You can check if they are sealed by checking the lid visually – it should be just slightly concave (rounded down) in the center.  If you can’t tell, unscrew the ring band (round part) and look at the flat again.  Tap it, if you like, with a butter knife.  If it makes a dull thud or thwack like you’re flogging a dead horse – probably not sealed.  If it gives you (even just a little bit of) tintinnation then you’re good to go.

Jars which did not seal properly should not be stored for long periods of time.  Perhaps the lid is damaged and needs replacing, or there is a nick out of the lip of the jar.  Or…maybe it just didn’t process long enough.  You can pour the contents into a new jar with a new lid and process it again.  Or you can put it in the fridge and make sure that this is the first one that you eat, preferrably within a month or thereabouts.  I like option 2.

Beautiful beets!  Beautiful jars!  Beautiful jars of pickled beets!

PS – ever wonder what to do with the used lids?  Well, someone has an answer for you!  Lots of “creative” (read: ugly) ideas to share!  I particularly liked the one with the green macaroni.  I thought that macaroni art only came in spray-painted silver and gold.  The more fool am I……

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  • Sharon

    Hey I just did 50lb of beets it took me from 10:00am to 5:00 pm and at one point they
    boiled over, down the side of the stove and onto the floor. It looked like a crime scene.
    Like you say the beet juice is a beautiful color, but not on the floor.
    How long before you can eat them after they have been canned/jarred?

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    50 lbs of beets, eh? You’re far more ambitious than I am. That’s amazing! Jeez, I love pickled beets. Mike was out of the house and didn’t know that I was canning them….when he walked in I had cleaned up as much as I could, but there I am in the kitchen with splatters all over my sweater, little spots that I hadn’t seen on the wall and the hood fan, and a roll of paper towel which will never be the same. I think beet canning should be on Dirty Jobs sometime soon……

    Most people say that you can eat the beets 24 – 48 hours after they have been canned. Because they get precooked, it certainly won’t do you any harm. The flavor is also well developed at that point. I like to leave them a bit longer though so they can continue to soak up all that vinegar – I don’t taste much difference between a week and a month of sitting, so after a week I’ve normally dug into them. We cracked ours on Friday and they were fabulous.

  • karen

    So Nan sent me your link and I’m about to embark on some serious beet canning…My grandma in Saskatchewan grows massive beets – and many of them. She made me take a ton home with me.
    I’m torn between your recipe and one involving a more clovey spice mix…Comments?
    P.S. If you don’t cut so much of the stumpy top off, they don’t bleed quite as much into the water. (Quite as much meaning the water is still red, but just not AS red.) I’m not sure if this would also affect nutrient leaching too, but…I leave at least a half inch of stem on mine.
    AND when the greens are healthy, I eat them. They taste like earth and are my favorite green.
    AND I made your hummus and it rocked.

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Karen, thank you so much for checking out our blog!! I’m actually tickled pink that you made my hummus recipe, and even more so that you liked it!!! Thank you.

    So I’m very jealous that you’ve got a line on massive beets that also happen to be free. Pickling them is a great way to preserve them, and you might also want to consider making an apple-beet puree. I bet your little guys would love that, and it freezes up really well. In terms of the recipe, although I’m totally supposed to say, “Make MINE!! Make MINE!!!!” I actually think that you should do the clovey spice mix….because I am:
    a) curious
    b) selfish and greedy
    …..and if you make the clovey one, which I want to try because I’ve never had clovey pickled beets, then I bet that I can totally convince Nanco to bring me a sample the next time that she’s in town.

    Beet greens: also one of my favourites. When Mike and I first started dating, this was the very first meal that we made together – and it was awesome.


    Leaving the tops and tails intact when you boil the beets does help to prevent nutrient leaching and it’s a good idea whenever possible. If I’m boiling or roasting just a few beets for a salad or side then I usually leave them as is. The reason that I topped and tailed them before boiling is that it makes them much easier to peel – the skins loosen up quite a bit and start to come off a bit on their own. If you have 5 beets then it doesn’t really matter, but if you have a lot of beets (particularly the smaller ones which are a pain to peel) I’m all for making life easier!

    So…you’re going to make the clovey beets and let me sample them, right?