Pickled Beets

Pickled beets are ridiculously easy to make, they just require a bit of time. They’re a perfect project for a sunday morning (since you don’t waste time in church!) or a rainy day.

You can put all sorts of things into the pickling juice. I have a friend who puts chili/garlic in so they come out kind of like kim chee. A typical recipe like this one: [lbc] has the basics: sugar, salt, vinegar, a hint of cinammon.

About 8 or 9 big beets or the equivalent will fill 5 largeish canning jars. How’s that for precise?

Don’t peel the beets, or cut the greens off close to the top. I just whack them off about 3″ from the beet. The greens don’t taste great in my opinion. They’re also more likely to have gunk on them. I rinse the beets, maybe scrub them gently to get dirt off, and that’s it for now.

One of the great things about canning beets (or cabbage or peppers) is that precision is not a requirement at all. The only thing you really need to be careful of is your sanitary technique. So, a word about that:

Don’t touch your face, put your hands on your counter, pick up the cutting board you just used to debone a chicken – that sort of thing. I like to do this process so that I’m not doing anything else. It reduces the chances of things going wrong. But the odds of things going wrong, honestly, are pretty low. Use the mason-style jars with the indicator top (the little spring region that pops up if the pressure in the jar goes up – a sign of bacterial action) If the top pops up don’t even open it. Put it in a bag, tie it off, and toss it out. If stuff starts growing in the jar, bag it and get rid of it – don’t go sniffing at a pseudomonas culture going “wow that smells bad.” Yes “smells bad” is evolutionary programming trying to tell you to stay away. I’ve done a lot of canning in the last 20 years and only ever had one can go bad and I knew it was going to happen (trying to sterilize a culture using a microwave instead of slow boiling it).

In the picture above, we have water and beets (you’ll add stuff to the water later) and in the pot next to it is water with the canning jars. The canning jars are completely submerged and are filled with water, then the whole thing is brought slowly to a gentle boil. Do not tighten down the lids of the jars. Coincidentally, the beets are completely submerged in water and also brought slowly to a gentle boil. Keep the beets at a gentle boil for about 40 minutes. The jars, too. You can turn them down a bit if you want but I leave them hot.

Canning jars in hot water. A totally uninteresting shot.

When the beets are cooked, the skins will slide right off with a fingertip.

Fish them out of the juice with a spoon or something – don’t dump the juice you boiled them in!

I use a butter knife and just scrape/peel them off. Then cut them up like oranges and toss them back into the juice pot. When they’re all cut up, I add the other stuff to the pickling sauce:

  • about 2 cups of champagne vinegar
  • a spoonful of salt
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of marsala wine
  • some cinammon
  • optionally some garlic
  • optionally some dried smoked chipotle pepper
  • optionally a clove

Then fish the jars out of the boiling water, one by one, dump them out (into the boiling water pot) and fill them with beets and juice to about 1/2″ or 10mm from the top. Try to keep the beets covered with juice. There should be plenty of juice and beets but you may wind up with too much of one or the other. Plan better, next time!

Joking aside, if you get desperate for juice you can add a bit of the boiling water you’ve got going on right in the next pot over.

A note about the orange cthulhu-mitts: that’s an “etekcity silicone oven glove” and I highly recommend them. They are about $20. They’re kind of amazing: you can reach right into the boiling water and pull out a jar, then handle it for quite a bit, without any problem. Be careful not to let the gloves heat up too much, though – if you reach into boiling water you’ll be fine but don’t fart around in there and if the temperature starts to build up run cold water over your hands fast. Just think of it as a problem of thermal management (which it is) and you’ll be fine. It does feel exceptionally weird to reach your hand into a huge pot of boiling water. Try it with a finger or two first and have cold water running so you can get an idea how long you’ve got.

Put the lids on loosely (but not so they will rattle off in the pot) and put the jars in the boiling water for another 10-15 minutes. After that you can fish them out, tighten the lids, and put them somewhere to cool. When they are room temperature I put them in my refrigerator (I usually have lots of space in there)

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Caine was my #1 product tester, among other things. I was always testing new soaps, blades, paper, whatever, and she was always very patient. I had been planning to send Caine and Rick a jar of these when I came upstairs, fired up my email, and read a message from Rick that she’d died. I’ll probably always associate pickled beets with her, now. I remember when I first showed up on Pharyngula, in the scienceblogs days, she helped break my attitude in. I’m going to miss her.


  1. jazzlet says

    I have a pair of similar gloves and I love them, being able to push the spagetti right down into the water feels so wrong, but is so useful. And yes invaluable for handling hot jars when preserving.

    I barely knew Caine, but she did seem to bring out good things in people. I think it’s nice that you will have a regular reminder of a good friend.

  2. says

    It’s very odd to reach into boiling water and not get mutilated. Those gloves are also great for barbecue and stuff (don’t use them to pick up and put down things on the grille, though)

    (PS – I have the first piece of the billet for your bread-cutter made, and it’s on the bench ready to be welded to a piece of 1095 for the back of the blade. I hope to get to that this week. I’m feeling a bit demoralized right now and it’s not speeding me up any.)

  3. jazzlet says

    Marcus I’m not sitting here wondering why you are not getting on with my dough slasher, it is lovely of you to be making it for me at all and I will be very happy to get it whenever it comes. I’m not surprised you are feeling demoralised either, you have lost a good friend which adds a personal fuck up to the more general fuck up that is going on in the USA, the UK and else where; it is a lot to deal with.

  4. kestrel says

    Ditto on the “demoralized” thing. For me it’s every time I see a bird, which is pretty much all the time. That’s what I associate with her most.

    I’m not one for pickled beets but I do love pickled green beans (“dilly beans”) and this will inspire me to make some. Thanks!

  5. says

    I’m not one for pickled beets but I do love pickled green beans (“dilly beans”) and this will inspire me to make some.

    Be careful; I may send you some!

    I love when the people at the post office ask “anything fragile, liquid, or perishable inside” and I ask them “is a block of soap cast to look like a baby’s skull OK?”

  6. says

    They’re a perfect project for a sunday morning (since you don’t waste time in church!) or a rainy day.

    The difference between a chore and a hobby is that you are not obliged to do the latter. Poor people for whom gardening, cooking, sewing clothes, making soap, etc. are essential activities for ensuring their survival perceive all of those as chores. Yet the moment you have enough money and you could just go to a shop and buy a jar of pickled vegetables, making your own turns into a hobby and you actually enjoy doing it.

    Personally, I can enjoy some activity only as long as I’m not obliged to do it, as long as I choose it freely. And, as of now, it looks like I will never be able to enjoy cooking. Years ago I hated gardening or learning foreign languages, because I was forced to do these things as a child. Yet the moment the obligation was gone, these activities became very enjoyable for me. Unfortunately, it seems like this isn’t going to happen with cooking. I regularly experience people telling me to prepare food (they imply that I have an obligation to cook just because of how my body happens to look like). And this makes me revolt and think “no way, never.” When reading recipes, I see why other people perceive cooking as fun and exciting. It really looks like an enjoyable hobby. Yet the moment I imagine myself preparing food, all I can think of is an unpleasant chore. Gender stereotypes suck!

    Use the mason-style jars with the indicator top

    I had to google to see how that works. I’m probably the only person out there who’s curious about various types of glass jar lids. This is how those jars my mother used for making pickled vegetables looked like — https://kontentnik.ru/public/xeimg-we-505×720.jpg. Their metal lids are single use and had to be thrown out and replaced after each use. This is what I grew up with.

    And then one day I saw photos of glass jars with lids attached to them via wires. Wow! Why would people do that? Did those who engineered these jars felt like people would be likely to lose the lids if they weren’t attached to the jar? What a mystery. And how does that mechanism even work? The photos I had seen piqued my curiosity, but I had no way of figuring it out back when I was a child—it was only not so long ago that Latvian shops started importing and selling glass jars with lids shaped differently from what people used in the Soviet Union.

    If the top pops up don’t even open it. Put it in a bag, tie it off, and toss it out.

    My mother would scream if she heard this advice. The proper course of action was to open the jar, toss out the spoiled food, wash the jar, reuse it next year.

  7. jazzlet says

    Ieva Skrebele

    My mother would scream if she heard this advice. The proper course of action was to open the jar, toss out the spoiled food, wash the jar, reuse it next year.

    I winced when I read that advice, I would do as your mother would have done.

  8. Raucous Indignation says

    I love beets. I bought canning stuff in the hopes that my Lovely and Delightful Partner would make refrigerator pickles. So far, nothing. I will send her this link.

  9. Raucous Indignation says

    I wander about with photos on my phone. Photos I meant to send Caine. A tree. The puppies. My sad attempts at mushroom culture. All slightly out of focus with the wrong depth of field of course. I emailed Caine nearly daily, links for music and art and other silliness when she slowed down blogging. Just little distractions. To let her know I was thinking of her. Little email hugs if you will. She’s the second friend I’ve lost to rectal cancer; the first was a nurse I worked with and then care for. I’m treating a third. I have a video of baby goats I wanted to share. I’m going to leave it here.

    Baby Goats Jump on Sleeping Dog

  10. says

    Raucous Indignation@#16:
    Yeah, demoralised.

    Be careful, I may send you beets!

    Baby Goats Jump on Sleeping Dog

    That dog is a candidate for sainthood.

  11. says

    OK everyone, let me explain about the “just throw it away” …
    I’m a fan of glassware, myself (my prizes are my vintage Weck tulip jars, which I like so much I never use). I’d probably never throw one of those away.

    But I didn’t want to include a whole lecture on canning safety. For one thing, I’ve had relatively few problems, but the one thing that did turn into a mold garden was full of pseudomonas. If I had opened that up in my kitchen, I would have probably gotten spores all over the place and then, if I ever made bread (I make pizza dough fairly often) I’d be risking it getting infected. I know that we’re always risking anything getting infected all the time but – and someone please correct me if I am wrong – you don’t want to go dumping a load of spores in your kitchen.

    If I got a big mold-farm in one of my nice jars I’d probably double-bag it in a ziploc bag with some bleach and open it inside that, then let it sit outside for a couple of days. At which point it’d probably be OK to hose off and bring into the house. If I’m telling people “here’s a cool home craft project!” on a blog, I probably don’t want to be having to explain all that.

    I know that a lot of the stuff you can infect your food with on a farm can be extremely nasty (e.g.: anthax) ad it can be incredibly hard to get rid of. but I’ve never had trouble before. Perhaps it’s because I am cautious. Perhaps I am over-cautious. Guess which I’d prefer to be?

    Am I being too paranoid?

  12. says

    Ieva Skrebele:
    The proper course of action was to open the jar, toss out the spoiled food, wash the jar

    Maybe open the jar inside a garbage bag under water in the sink with a glug of bleach in the water. Then shake the stuff out into the bag, pull the jar out and let it soak in the bleachy water for a bit, and then tie off the bag and throw it away. If the spoiled food is a little pathogen-farm, having it growing cheerfully away in the garbage bin is not a great thing.

    (That, by the way, is alleged to be very close to the FBI’s scenario for how the anthrax mailer did his safety procedures – which is an interesting “how did they know that?” They never managed to find the alleged mastermind’s alleged glove box, in spite of practically draining a pond looking for it.)

  13. says

    Did any of you notice how one of the beets in the top picture looks sort of like a baby? If you did, let me assure you there are no babies in my beets.

  14. jazzlet says

    In this household mouldy things get emptied onto the compost heap and the container rinsed outside before being put into a dishwasher for a hot wash. Yes it pays to be paranoid about preserving (canning) hygeine, and general minimising of mould spores in kitchens is just good sense.

    I thought the beet looked like a dead cat’s head … but will assume you don’t have parts of dead cats in your beets either.

  15. chigau (違う) says

    At one point our small kitchen/dining area had beer, sourdough, kimchee and nuka going at the same time.
    I’m still here and I’m fine.

  16. says

    Marcus @#19
    I wasn’t criticizing you. I just pointed out a difference in the mindset—a person who has experienced scarcity (like my mother) is very unwilling to throw out anything that might still be potentially useful. Of course, such mindset has drawbacks of its own. Whenever my mother buys a glass jar with some pickled vegetables or jam or anything else, after eating the food she washes and keeps the jar. Over the years her collection of glass jars has gotten so large that there’s no way she could possibly use that many.

    By the way, this is how I remember this procedure from my childhood: Take the sealed jar outside to where the compost heap is located. Open the jar, throw out the spoiled food on top of the compost heap. Rinse the jar with a garden hose. Leave it outside in direct sunlight for a while. Only after all this was done, people would bring the jar into the kitchen for more thorough washing. (Yes, I know this doesn’t work for apartment dwellers and during winter.)

  17. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#23:
    I didn’t feel criticized. Giving advice (which I consider posting a recipe to be) is tricky and sometimes dangerous. Imagine if Richard Carrier read my advice on beets and decided to sue me if he didn’t like the outcome. I think a little caution is appropriate but I think I exceed normal caution when I am encouraging my readers to try playing with lye in their kitchens, etc. On the flip side, I don’t expect any of The Commentariat(tm) to get lye in their eye and try to sue me. Mostly my concern is that nobody get hurt, which is why I try to walk far on the side of safety without turning my postings into safety lectures.

    a person who has experienced scarcity (like my mother) is very unwilling to throw out anything that might still be potentially useful

    My grandmother was the same way – she and grandpa lived through the depression. When they died, the entire garage was full of stuff (some of it from the 1930s) that had been hoarded in case it was someday needed again. There were a lot of canning jars (which went in a dumpster because the steel lids were corroded) …

    Take the sealed jar outside to where the compost heap is located. Open the jar, throw out the spoiled food on top of the compost heap. Rinse the jar with a garden hose. Leave it outside in direct sunlight for a while.

    That’s a pretty good process. The compost heap is a great big pile of things that eat eachother, so any pathogens in the jar are probably going to succumb in the great big pathogen playground known as Thunderdome: Compost Heap. I’m sure that the UV from the sun is also good.

    I don’t know enough about bacteriology and I feel like – now that we’ve got antibiotic-resistant nasties – it’s an increasingly serious concern. Back to your point about how our behaviors are influenced by the times we lived through: I lived through the period where there were “wonder drugs” that basically cured infections. That’s changing. I feel like I need to be aware of and understand those changes. Which, to me, seems to mean lots of “double bag it and throw it away” and “soak it in bleach”

    Anyhow, I don’t feel criticized – I’m mostly thinking out loud as I realize that I probably need to learn more about food safety than I do. (By the way: don’t read about chicken and salmonella rates in chicken meat or you’ll wake up with nightmares)

  18. says


    (By the way: don’t read about chicken and salmonella rates in chicken meat or you’ll wake up with nightmares)

    You now, many readers are going to read this sentence and interpret it to mean, “Go and google for ‘salmonella in chicken meat’ right now.” *Cough cough*

    And, no, I’m not going to get nightmares tonight. In order for me to get scared of some disease, it needs to be serious, as in “incurable and life-threatening.” I could get nightmares about, for example, cancer or HIV, but there’s no way I’m getting worried about salmonellosis. Usually this thing goes away on its own after a few days. In most cases it’s not even necessary to go to a doctor. Diarrhea and stomachache are no big deal. So, nah, who cares. If I get this crap, I’ll just spend a couple of days in the vicinity of a toilet. Whatever.

  19. jazzlet says

    My habits around the cleaning and keeping of jars were taught to me by my mother who grew up during the depression, then married during WWII so her first household was very much in the ‘make do and mend’ mode and in many areas she never got over that. Her jar preparation differed from yours Marcus, in that because she had a solid fuel cooker she always had access to a hot oven so the jars would be washed, rinsed and put in one of the ovens to dry and stay hot. She didn’t use fancy preserving jars for preserves, like many of her generation she used cellophane* and wax discs so she could use any jar the cellophane circles would cover. She didn’t make any pickles or chutneys, she thought there there were good enough ones you could buy cheaply enough, but didn’t think that about marmalade which she made pounds and pounds of every year so we were always eating at least three year old properly matured marmalade, which while you can buy is expensive. It was a bit of a shock when I first encountered ‘fresh’ boughten marmalade, I started making my own soon after leaving univercity and I now have my own stash of ever changing maturing marmalade.

    As far as the bacterial and fungal nasties that might grow in preserves go, the problems they cause are mostly not to do with infecting you. Some will just spoil the taste of the produce and reduce it’s nutritional value, the risky ones produce various toxins that can make you very ill, and most of those are fungal rather than bacterial so antibiotic resistance isn’t a major concern in relation to preserves.

    * I’m not sure if it is cellophane, it’s a thin, clear material which you damp on one side then hold in place with a rubber band, as it dries the material becomes drumhead~ tight and makes a good seal
    ~ trying to use the tops of the sealed marmalade as small drums was absolutely forbidden, she didn’t trust any of us to do so without wrecking the seal and that is not what they were for!

  20. jazzlet says

    Alternatively go read about the British experience now that most of our flocks are vaccinated … doesn’t solve the campylobacta problem of course, but it seems to me to be a sensible model to follow.

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