Pickled beets are one of the most requested preserves item at farmers’ markets.
Yet sadly, many people find that they have to avoid them, because the beets are saturated with boatloads of added sugar and salt. The kicker is, the actually preserving agents are the vinegar, and the heat processing of the jar. The sugar and salt in the quantities used are only there for flavour.
This recipe will let you, should you choose, reduce or eliminate the salt and sugar should you choose so that you can enjoy as many of your pickled beets as you want to, guilt-free. Pickled beets are back on the menu; spread the good word!
Onions are optional in this recipe; you can omit them.
You can easily cut this recipe in half, or double it.
Plain beets need to be pressure canned.
Quantities of beets needed for pickled beets
As a rough rule of thumb:
- expect to need about 3 medium sized beets per half-litre (US pint) jar;
- about 1 3/4 lbs of beets (before prep) per quart jar;
- about 3/4 kg of beets (before prep) per litre jar
Your mileage will of course vary based on the size you cut them down into and how many fibrous parts you find that have to be cut off and discarded.
Jar size choices: Half-litre (1 US pint / 500 ml/ 16 oz) OR 1 litre (US quart / 32 oz)
Processing method: Water bath or steam canning
Yield: 8 x half-litre (US pint) jars
Headspace: 2 cm (1/2 inch)
Processing time: 30 minutes (all jar sizes)
Yield: 8 x half-litre (1 US pint) jars or 4 litre (US quart) jars
Serving size: ¼ of a ½ litre / US pint jar
Fat: .2 g
- 3 kg beets (about 7 lbs)
- 1 spice bag (see NOTES section below)
- 1 litre cider vinegar (5 % or higher) (4 cups / 32 oz )
- 500 ml water (2 cups / 16 oz)
- 450 g white sugar (2 cups / 16 oz) OR 2 teaspoons liquid stevia
- 300 g peeled and thinly sliced onion (optional) (3 cups / about 3 medium)
- ½ teaspoon salt OR salt sub per jar
- ¼ teaspoon pickle crisp per jar (optional)
- red food dye (optional)
- Cut off beet greens if still attached, leaving a small bit (2 to 3 cm / 1 inch), as well as any roots.
- Wash and scrub well.
- Boil the unpeeled beet roots just until they are tender. This should be about 20 to 25 minutes in boiling water (depending on size) or try pressure cooker (see Pressure Cooker section below). Don't overcook. You won't want mushy pickled beets.
- Meanwhile make up and set aside your spice bag. (See NOTES section below.)
- Let beets cool till you can handle them safely, then peel, then cut into slices about 1 cm (1/4 inch) thick.
- Mix vinegar, water and (liquid stevia OR sugar) in a large pot. Add spice bag. Bring to a boil. Add onion (if using) and beets, bring back to a boil then lower to a simmer for 5 minutes.
- Remove and discard spice bag.
- Use a slotted spoon to divvy the onion (if using) and beet out amongst the jars.
- To each half-litre (1 US pint) jar add: ½ teaspoon salt (OR non-bitter, non-clouding salt sub) and optionally, ¼ teaspoon Pickle Crisp and optionally a few drops of red food dye if your beets are looking pale. (Double those quantities for litre / US quart jars).
- Top jars up with pickling liquid.
- Leave 2 cm (1/2 inch) headspace for either size of jar.
- Debubble, top up with more liquid as required to retain headspace.
- Wipe jar rims.
- Put lids on.
- Process either size jar in a water bath or steam canner for 30 minutes; increase time as needed for your altitude.
- Best after at least a month of jar time.
How to water bath process.
How to steam can.
When water-bath canning or steam canning, you must adjust the processing time for your altitude.
For salt substitute, Herbamare Sodium-Free was used.
For stevia, Better Stevia liquid stevia was the stevia used.
More information about Sugar and Salt-Free Canning in general.
- You’ll want about 12 to 13 cups of sliced beet after the prep is done. If you have less don’t worry, you might just have a jar or two fewer. If you have a bit more, then top up pickling liquid with ratio of 2 parts vinegar to 1 part water.
- You can use white vinegar or any vinegar you want, as long as it is 5% strength or higher.
- Don’t use beets that have been previously frozen, unless you like very, very soft pickled beets.
- Don’t overcook the beets during the pre-cooking: they are going to get more cooking during the processing.
- If you have beets with a lot of fibrous spots — rock hard black spots — be ruthless in trimming those parts away when peeling. They are inedible, anyway. And, beware of them misleading you about how cooked the beets are or aren’t during pre-cooking, as they will always stay rock hard.
- If you want your beets sweeter and are using liquid stevia, you can add more liquid stevia at any time up until the lids get screwed on.
- Note that the sweetener is not the preservative here. The vinegar, being 50% (or more) of the liquid ratio, is.
- For the salt sub, use a modern non-clouding, non-bitter salt sub. We used Herbamare Sodium-Free .
While the beets are pre-cooking, make up a spice bag by tying up one of the following flavour combos in it (and yes, you can mix and match or make up your own from dried spices)
- Scandinavian / Sweet style: 6 whole cloves, 6 whole allspice nuts, 1 cinnamon stick
- Traditional English: 2 tablespoons picking spice
- Caraway Beets: 1 tbsp caraway seeds, 1 tsp black peppercorns
About the beets
Yes, you must peel the beets. You want to get the bacterial count down and most of the bacteria with beets is on the skin.
While pre-cooking the beets, you want them just soft enough to start being tender to a fork, but not too much softer. Remember, they will get an additional 5 minute boil in the vinegar mixture, and then a 30 minute processing time after that. How long exactly you need to pre-cook the beets will depend on the size of them. If you are doing a lot, it’s a good idea to separate batches by size for more even cooking.
If while pre-cooking your beets you find that you have parts of your beets that are tender, and parts that are staying rock hard, then the beets are done: the rock hard places are almost certainly tough, fibrous parts that will need trimming away and discarding, anyway.
You can cook the beets the day before, and peel and overnight them in the fridge, to save time on pickling day. Just heat them up all the way through when you add them to the hot pickling liquid so they are piping hot going into the jar for canning. A microwave is ideal for such a reheat, just make sure they get reheated evenly and thoroughly.
The USDA emphasizes in bold to drain and discard the cooking liquid from the beets; not to use as the water in the recipe.
Two good varieties for canning that hold their colour are: (a) ‘Detroit Dark Red’ Sturdy, which is round, and (b) Formanova, which are long beets.
Other varieties often lose their colour and go a pale pink. It does not affect their flavour at all. But thus the suggestion of the food colour. Many people go all hinky about food colouring, so don’t consider it if you don’t feel comfortable with it.
The reason for the 5 minute boil of the beets in the vinegar is to drive acid into the beets, to help make them safe for canning.
Pressure cooker pre-cooking for the beets
Pre-cooking the beets in a pressure cooker might not always save a lot of time when it comes to preparing beets for this recipe, but it will save resources such as cooking fuel and water, with the bonus of avoiding a steamy kitchen.
Note that when you are boiling beets in an open pot, it is easy to fish out the smaller ones as they are ready and to leave the larger ones in longer. You can’t do that when pressure cooking them, so it can be useful to sort big bags of various-sized beets into sizes, and process in a batch or two based on size, to avoid overcooking the smaller ones.
To be clear, these are NOT processing times for jars, they are pre-cooking suggestions for the beets as you prepare the recipe. And these are just suggestions. Times will vary based on how many beets you load at once into your pressure cooker. And bear this contradiction in mind: the more beets you have in at once, the greater the “come up to speed” and “cooling down” times which means you are getting a longer cooking time overall so the LESS actual cooking time at pressure is needed.
Do not VENT the pressure cooker / canner for 10 minutes first. There is no need to do so (here we are using the pot as a pressure cooker, not canner), and, if you did, you would overcook the beets. And no need to add vinegar to this pressure-cooking water.
- Medium beets (up to around 10 cm / 4 inches, a few larger ones sorted out for a separate load). 4 kg / 10 lbs of beets at once, in a Presto 16 quart pressure canner / cooker. 10 lbs pressure, 1 litre / quart water. 8 to 9 minutes. Afterward, natural release. This should produce tender-to-the-fork beets that are easy to peel and still have solidity to them: not hard, not too soft. 10 minutes for more on the softer side.
Pickled Beets. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Complete guide to home canning. Agriculture information bulletin No. 539. 2015. Page 6-15.
- Added pressure cooker option for cooking the beets;
- Added spicing choices;
- Add option for sugar and salt free
Spice bag options come from: Pickled Beets. In: Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving. Toronto, Canada: Bernardin Ltd. 2013. Page 90.
Based on using onion. Calories lower without.
Regular version with salt and sugar
Serving size: one-fourth of a 1/2 litre (US pint) jar:
- 71 calories, 92 mg sodium
Sugar and salt-free version
Serving size: one-fourth of a 1/2 litre (US pint) jar:
- 45 calories, 73 mg sodium
- Weight Watchers PointsPlus®: 1 point.
* Nutrition info provided by http://caloriecount.about.com
* PointsPlus™ calculated by healthycanning.com. Not endorsed by Weight Watchers® International, Inc, which is the owner of the PointsPlus® registered trademark.
* Better Stevia ® is a registered trademark of the NOW Foods Company.
* Herbamare ® is a registered trademark of the A. Vogel Corporation.
* Pickle Crisp ® is a registered trademark of the Jarden Corporation.