QUESTION: I can’t possibly eat all the beets I’m harvesting. How do you preserve beets? Are there different ways, so I don’t get tired of them? -Heather K
ANSWER: The most important rule in preserving beets is that they must be processed in a pressure canner. Because of their low acidity, root vegetables like beets, carrots, turnips, and rutabagas cannot be safely canned in an atmospheric steam canner or boiling water bath. In order to process your beets in a water bath or atmospheric steam canner, you must first acidify them by pickling them.
The best varieties of beetroot for canning are Red Cloud, Red Ace, Golden, Ruby Queen, Detroit Dark Red, and Cylindra beets. The best beet varieties to cultivate for freezing are Albino and Early Wonder. The best beet varieties to grow for the purpose of pickling are White Albino and Striped Chioggia.
When selecting which beets to preserve, pick the deepest red, youngest, most tender beets from your harvest. The optimal size beets for preserving are between one and one and one half inches in diameter.
You will need two pounds of beets for every quart or one pound for every pint of beets that you want to preserve. One pound of beets without their tops will yield about two cups of diced, pickled beets.
After you harvest your beets, they will need a bit of preparation before you can freeze, can, or pickle them. If you don’t want to dye your hands red while preparing your beets for storage, put on a pair of disposable gloves before you begin prepping.
First, cut off the tops, leaving about an inch of stem and root to prevent excessive color loss. Next, scrub them well, removing all dirt and soil from their outer skin Then, cover your beets with boiling water and boil them until their skin slips off with ease. For canning beets, depending on their size, this usually takes about 15 to 25 minutes. For preparing beets for pickling or freezing, cook them until they are tender, which will take around 25 to 30 minutes for smaller beets and 45 to 50 minutes for medium beets.
To prepare your beets for freezing, cool your cooked beets quickly in a cold water bath. Remove stem, taproot, and outer skin. Cut into slices or cubes and fill a pint or quart sized plastic freezer bag or plastic freezer container. Remove as much excess air as possible from freezer bags and allow about a half inch of headspace in plastic containers. Seal, label clearly, and freeze.
Alternatively, you can freeze your beets first and then package them. This way, the beets remain looser, which will allow you to measure out what you want in the future. To freeze and then package your beets, lay them out in a single layer on shallow trays or pans. Put them in the freezer just long enough to freeze them, checking often after an hour has passed because you don’t want your beets losing too much moisture. Once they are firmly frozen, package and seal them, leaving no headspace, then toss them into the freezer.
Cool beets quickly after cooking in a cold water bath and remove skins, root, and stem. Use a pair of gardening shears to trim off the root and stem. When canning your beets, you’ll want to leave your baby beets whole and cut medium or large beets into 1-2 inch slices or cube, halving or quartering large slices for uniformity.
Then, pack prepped beets into hot jars, leaving one inch of head-space. If you prefer, add a teaspoon of canning or pickling salt per quart or a half teaspoon per pint. Fill the jar to one inch from the top with boiling water, but do not reuse the water you used to cook the beets. Next, remove air bubbles and wipe jar rims off with a clean, damp paper towel. Tighten down lids using screw bands and then process in a pressure canner. Quarts will take 35 minutes and pints will take 30 in a dial gauge pressure canner at 11 pounds of pressure or in a weighted gauge pressure canner at 10 pounds of pressure.
Remove jars from the pressure canner after they have been processed and place them on dry towels or a wooden board to cool off for 12 to 24 hours. Then, remove screw bands and check lid seals. If the center of lid is indented then your jar is sealed correctly. Wash, dry, label and store the beets in a cool, dark, clean location. If your jar didn’t seal correctly, use a new lid and reprocess or just refrigerate and consume within three days.
Don’t worry if your beets lose pigment during the canning process, as the pigments in beets are sensitive to high temperatures and can lose color during the canning process. The color will often come back to a darker red after a few days of room temperature storage.
First, drain and cool seven pounds of cooked beets. Then, trim roots and stems off and slip off the skins. Slice into ¼ inch slices or use whole beets that are no more than one and a half inches in diameter. Next, peel and thinly slice four to six onions and combine in a pot, four cups of vinegar, one and a half teaspoons of pickling salt, two cups of sugar, and two cups of water.
Now, add 12 whole cloves and two cinnamon sticks in a cheesecloth bag to the vinegar mix and bring to a boil. Add your beets and onions and simmer for five minutes, then remove the cheesecloth bag. Fill jars with pickled beets and onions and leave half an inch of headspace. Then, add the hot vinegar solution and keep one half inch of headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust the headspace if desired. Wipe jar rims clean with a damp paper towel and tighten down lids with screw bands.
Finally, process your pints or quarts for 30 minutes in a boiling water bath or an atmospheric steam canner. At altitudes of 1,000 to 3,000 feet, process for 35 minutes. At altitudes of 3,000 to 6,000 feet, process for 40 minutes. At altitudes over 6,000 feet, process for 45 minutes.
This recipe will yield about eight pints of pickled beets. Canned beets are perfectly safe to consume as long as lids stay vacuum sealed, but it is best to eat them within one year after pickling.