Friday, March 12, 2010

Pickled Beets

When it comes to beets people seem to either love or hate them. And the people who hate them, really hate them. A friend of mine once said that the very smell of beets cooking would drive her out of the house. This makes me wonder whether there isn't a gene similar to the "taster" gene that makes broccoli bitter to some folks, or the gene that enables a small percentage of the population to detect the bitter almond smell of cyanide.

I don't know about the cyanide, but I love broccoli and beets. Sometimes together, in a grated slaw (a good way to use the peeled stems of broccoli that otherwise go to waste).

In Heaven Preserve Us, Sophie Mae's boss at the community center dies after eating home canned beets tainted with botulism toxin. Due to their low acid content, beets are among the vegetables that are at high risk for botulism, and must be pressure canned -- as opposed to being canned in a hot water bath -- to ensure safety.

However, if they're pickled the addition of vinegar makes it possible to preserve them without a pressure canner. This is my go to recipe for pickled beets, since I rarely have enough to make more than a quart or two. You don't have to heat the jars at all but they do need to be kept in the refrigerator. I halved the recipe last week and used the beets from the final CSA winter share distribution for the year.

Pickled Beets
  • 8 medium beets
  • 1 cup cider or wine vinegar (5% acidity)
  • 1.5 teaspoons Kosher or pickling salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 sprigs fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried
Scrub the beets with a vegetable brush and roast in a 350 degree oven until tender when pierced with a knife. Don't overcook. Depending on the size of the beets it should take an hour to an hour and a half. Allow beets to cool and peel. You might want to use gloves for this. Or, if the skins are thin, you can roll the roasted beets in an old towel, and they'll rub right off.

Slice beets thinly. Pack into two quart jars. Divide the tarragon between the jars. Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan and pour over the beets. Put the lids on the jars and place in the refrigerator.

They'll be ready to eat in 4-7 days, and will be fine in the fridge for 3 months. They probably won't last that long, though. You could also run them through a hot water bath for 30 minutes, and they'll last unopened on the shelf like any other pickles.


  1. I think I actually border the fence on beets. I'm not crazy about them, but I can eat them. In fact, years ago I tried one of those strange diets where you only eat certain things for so many days. Well one of the things I had to eat was a small can (can't remember the size) of beets for several meals. I ate them and I don't think I've eaten any since. BTW, the diet didn't work of course. My family loves beets so I'll have to try your recipe. Thanks.

  2. Beets grow soft in my CSA box. Perhaps I shall pickle mine as well, using your refrigerator recipe. I made baked beet chips that were very good, baking thinly sliced beets brushed with olive oil in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Now I'm wondering how pickled beet chips would taste.

  3. Mason, I bet the beets pushed a few people right off that diet! Hope your family enjoys this take on them.

    Linda, your baked chips sound tasty. They'd be gorgeous served with some baked sweet potato chips, too. You'll have to let me know if you try the pickled chips. ; - >