I had no idea that so many people had such a strong aversion to beets. My beet class last weekend was somewhat under-enrolled, and I kept getting e-mails that said, more or less, “I really want to come and learn how to can, except that I can’t stand beets!” How can I convince you that beets are delicious, nutritious, and beautiful to boot? Will this post help?
Picked beets were a staple in my house as a kid growing up. My mother always goes for your basic pickled beet: nothing but white vinegar, water, and sugar. I usually do, too, but on Saturday my CSA included several heads of fennel. Fennel and beets are a natural pair, so the few dedicated beet-loving souls who attended the Saturday class left with a slightly more sophisticated product. If you don’t like fennel, no problem—just leave it out. If, on the other hand, you like a spicy pickled beet, feel free to add any of the following (but probably not all at once) to your pickling jars: peppercorns, cloves, allspice, star anise, dill heads, garlic, or strips of hot pepper.
Beets are a low-acid food, so please don’t change the proportion of vinegar to water. You can, however, use cider vinegar, so long as it’s at least 5% acidity. Finally, the purpose of the sugar is merely to counteract the tartness of the vinegar and preserve the color—it’s not really involved in the safety equation. Feel free to add more or less, depending on your taste, or to substitute brown sugar, raw sugar, or a sugar substitute. I can’t predict what making all of these kinds of changes will do to the color and texture of your beets, but so long as your acid is 5%, it’s safe for water-bath canning. Finally, be sure to wait several weeks to let the beets develop their full flavor. Then devour at leisure.
Pickled Beets with Fennel
About five pounds of beets
One long fennel frond, cut into seven pieces
3 1/2 c. distilled white vinegar (5%)
1 1/2 c. water
1 1/2 c. sugar
1) Wash your beets, leaving the roots and 1″ of stems attached. Cook your beets your preferred way. Some options: pressure cooking, boiling, roasting, or wrapped in foil in the crock pot. Cool. If your beets are thoroughly cooked, the skins should slip right off. Leave small beets whole, but cut larger beets into bite-sized pieces (or slice, or quarter, or whatever appeals to you).
2) Make your canning solution. Combine the vinegar, water, and sugar in a small pan and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, heat water for a boiling water bath, warm your jar lids, and have 7 pint jars ready.
3) Place a piece of fennel and a single peppercorn in each jar. Transfer the beets to the jars and cover with hot syrup. Remove air bubbles and add more syrup if necessary, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Adjust two-piece lids. Process in a boiling-water bath for 30 minutes.
4) After the jars have cooled and you’ve checked for seals, be sure to remove the rings. The syrup is sticky, and the rings become difficult to remove if you leave them on too long. Once you’ve opened the jars, you might want to switch to a plastic lid, as the vinegar will quickly corrode a standard canning lid.