The most important piece of advice I can give you if you decide to pickle some beets, is to keep a cloth nearby at all times, and expect a few little purple stains here and there. You can at least prevent your kitchen counter top from staining by wiping up any beet “blood” as soon as possible.
Beets need a good scrubbing before you cook them, and I like to use a cheap nailbrush to do this since scrubbing with my hands isn’t sufficient to get all of the dirt off of the beets.
You also might need to do a little bit of kitchen math when planning out your batch o’ beets. For instance, the recipe I’m using (source: Bernardin Complete Book of Home Preserving, Robert Rose Inc., 2006) calls for 10 cups of prepared beets. A table at the back informs me that 1 lb. of raw beets will produce 2 cups of prepared beets. The recipe calls for 10 cups of prepared beets, which means I need 5 lbs. of raw beets to produce the 10 cups I need for canning. The recipe also says that it will result in about 6, 500 mL (or pint) jars, but the only ones I have on hand are 1 L (quart) jars, so I’m using three of those instead. (You know the old saying, “Six of one, half dozen of the other…”?)
You also might like to consider warning your house mates that you are planning to cook and peel beets. This is so they don’t mistakenly think they’ve come upon a grisly murder scene when they find you and your kitchen spattered with blood red beet juice.
Here are my beets, washed and ready to be cooked. The colour is really spectacular…I often wonder if pioneer women used beets to dye cloth.
Place the beets in a large pot and cover with water. Boil, like you would potatoes, for 20 to 40 minutes. When the beets are cooked, drain them and run them under cool water. You will be able to rub the skins off by applying pressure with your thumb and rubbing back and forth. Remove the stem and root ends, and cut into whatever sized pieces you prefer.
To make the brine, combine 2 1/2 cups of white vinegar, 1 cup of water, 1 cup of granulated sugar, and a spice bag containing 3 tbsp. pickling spice. Bring to a boil and let boil gently for 15 minutes until the spices have infused the liquid.
Once your brine is infused, remove the spice bag and add the beets to the pot. Return to a boil. Use a slotted spoon to pack your jar with the cooked and peeled beets, then add the pickling juice to the jars, leaving a 1/4 inch head space. Process in a boiling water canner for 30 minutes.
Unfortunately the brine mixture I made only filled two quart jars instead of the three I was hoping for. The jars are really a beautiful colour, and I’m sure the beets will be delicious, but I’m not sure I would do these every year. There are a couple of variations listed in my recipe book, including one using cloves and cinnamon instead of pickling spice, so maybe I will try one batch like that, using pint jars as called for.