Thursday, August 30, 2012

In a pickle: Pickled beets

My sister loves all things pickled. You could say her middle name is pickle. We recently went to my favorite restaurant in DC, Founding Farmers, and got burgers. She asked for an extra side of pickles and almost got mad when I took one slice.

My dad is up to his ears with beets in his garden, so when he came to town recently, he asked how many beets I wanted and I told him to pack the cooler. I was up for the challenge; making and canning pickled beets! 

I am a huge fan of the site Pick Your Own; the author does very detailed instructions and photographs each step.

What are pickles? Pickling is one way to preserve the harvest. Either a salt solution called "brine" or a vinegar solution either prevents or controls growth of bacteria. These pickles are made using a vinegar solution but I am also hoping to try fermented pickles using the brine; these are supposed to be delicious too and are an excellent source of probiotics.

Pickled Beets
  • Giant bowl of fresh beets from the garden or farmers market - about the same size
  • 4 cups white vinegar (5 percent acid- check the label)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons canning or pickling salt - without iodine; iodine clouds the solution
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 2 large onions, sliced (optional)
  1. Sanitize your jars, new lids and rings in your dishwasher or wash using very hot water. Clean and safe is the name of the game. 
  2. Trim off beet tops, leaving 1 inch of stem and roots to prevent bleeding of color. Wash thoroughly in your sink.
  3. Cover with boiling water and cook until less-than-tender (about 20 minutes). I didn't want the beets to be mushy, so I just cooked them long enough to loosen the skin; some directions suggest cooking  until tender (35 minutes, or so). Up to you. How do you know when the skin is loose? Fish one beet out of the pot and cool under running water; try to massage the skin off. If it doesn't come off easily, toss back in the pot and keep boiling.
  4. While beets are cooking, fill water bath canner with about 6-8 inches of water and bring to boil. I also fill tea kettle with water and bring that to a boil in case I didn't get quite enough water in the canner. The goal is that once you set your filled jars in the water bath canner, the water level will just cover them. This will take some practice :) 
  5. Drain beets and cover with cool water until cool enough to handle. Using your hands and a paring knife, massage off skin and trim any strange spots. Your sink may look like the scene of a crime, so make sure you're wearing an apron and not your favorite white shirt. 
  6. Slice into 1/4-inch slices. I put a plastic cutting board on top of a baking tray (cookie sheet with rim) to catch the red juice. I didn't use a wooden cutting board because I didn't want it to get stained.
  7. Peel and thinly slice onions. Combine vinegar, salt, sugar, and fresh water in a large sauce pan. Put spices in cheesecloth bag, or mulling spice strainer and add to vinegar mixture. Bring to a boil. Add beets and onions and simmer 5 minutes. Remove spice bag.
  8. Fill jars with beets and onions, leaving 1/2-inch headspace (space between top of food and top of jar). Add hot vinegar solution, allowing 1/2-inch headspace.
  9. Wipe rim of jar with clean cloth and place clean lid on top. Screw ring on loosly, finger tight, and use jar grabber to put into boiling bath canner. 
  10. Start timer once water returns to a boil; for sea level folks using pint jars, process jars (aka boil them) for 30 minutes. If you live at high altitute, you need to process for more time; see table 1 below.
  11. Once pickles are done processing, remove carefully using jar grabber and place on towel away from drafts. If you hear a "pop", you have gotten a good seal. Set cool, undisturbed, for 24 hours. Check seal by pushing top of jar; if it moves, you didn't get a seal. Place that jar in the fridge. All sealed jars are to be labeled with the contents and date and stored in a cool, dark cupboard. 
Table 1. Recommended process time for Pickled Beets in a boiling-water canner.
Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar Size 0 - 1,000 ft 1,001 - 3,000 ft 3,001 - 6,000 ft Above 6,000 ft
Hot Pints or Quarts 30 min 35 40 45

Very clean jars, lids, rings and jar filling funnel
Cleaning the beets
Easy to peel
Making pickling solution; spices in mulling ball make for easy removal

Slice beets but keep juice from running all over the counter

After boiling beets in brine for 5 minutes, use slotted spoon to fill jars with the vegetable and then a ladle to fill jars with the pickling solution. Clean rims with clean cloth, place clean lid on top and gently screw on ring. Process according your altitude. Don't forget to label your jars once they're cool.

 


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