5 December 2012

Preserving food in a traditional way - pickling beetroot

I've had a number of emails from readers who want to start preserving food in jars but don't know where to start or what equipment to buy.  Leading on from yesterday's post, let's just say up front - don't buy any equipment. Once you know what you're doing and that you enjoy preserving, then you can decide whether or not to buy extra equipment.


Food is preserved effectively without refrigeration by a variety of different methods. A few of the traditional methods are drying, fermentation, smoking, salting or by adding vinegar and sugar to the food - pickling. This last method is what we're talking about today. Vinegar and sugar are natural preservatives and adding one or both to food sets up an environment that bacteria and yeasts can't grow in. If you make the vinegar and sugar mix palatable, you can put up jars of vegetables or fruit that enhance the flavour of the food and can be stored in a cupboard or fridge for months.

Other traditional ways of preserving food in jars are to make jam, chutney, relish and sauce. It works because you add sugar, in the case of jam, or sugar and vinegar for chutney, relish and sauce, then boil the food to remove the moisture and to kill off the bugs. These foods are then placed in sterile containers and can be stored for months without further processing because you've created an environment in which bacteria and yeasts can't grow.


HOW TO PICKLE BEETROOT
You will need a large stockpot or saucepan, some wide-mouthed jars with metal lids of the size to fit what you're going to preserve. If you have tongs or jar lifters, that's great, if not, we'll get around it.

This type of pickling has three stages:
  1. sterilising the jars and utensils you'll use to transfer the ingredients to the jars
  2. preparing the food
  3. preparing the pickling liquid
I pickled some beetroot last week so we'll use that as our teacher. This beetroot should have been picked at least a month before but it stayed in the ground until I was ready. It was badly sunburnt on the top, but beetroot is very forgiving and as long as you cook it well and make a tasty pickling liquid, you'll come out of it with excellent pickled beetroot. Of all the pickles I make, pickled beetroot and tomato relish are the two that most of the visitors who eat here compliment me on. And they're the most simple things to make.


Sterilising the jars
The jars must be cleaned thoroughly before sterilising. It's no good sterilising a jar that has a smear of jam or relish in it. Get yourself a good bottle brush (and that will be another post soon - cleaning brushes) and with warm soapy water, clean the jars and lids. Many people use their dishwashers to sterilise jars and if that is what you wish to do, go for it. I use the sink and elbow grease. Both ways work.

When the jars and lids are completely clean, put them in a large saucepan full of COLD water, with the lids and utensils, and boil for 10 minutes. OR, place the clean jars, lids and utensils in a low oven (preheated), about 150C, and keep them in there for about 15 minutes. Remember to keep your jars warm and to always add hot/warm food to hot/warm jars. Adding anything to a cold jar is likely to crack it.


Prepare the beetroot
To prepare the beetroot, just cut off the leaves and clean up any blemishes. Even if they're sunburnt like mine, don't worry, when they're skinned, they'll look fine.  Don't peel them at this stage and don't cut into the beets because the juice will bleed out into the water.




Place the cleaned up beetroot into a saucepan full of lightly salted water, just covering the beets, bring to the boil and boil slowly for 20 to 30 minutes. The time will depend on how big the beets are and how old they are. 


While the beetroot is cooking, prepare the pickling liquid
You'll need to make enough liquid to completely cover the beetroot so if you have a large amount of beetroot, you might have to double the quantity.

Into a small saucepan place: 
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups vinegar - use good vinegar, not cleaning vinegar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt 
  • ½ teaspoon cracked pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of mixed spices - I mixed up a combo of celery seeds and mustard seeds and used two teaspoons of the mix. If you don't have these, leave them out.
Bring this mixture to the boil and simmer it for two minutes. Taste the pickling liquid and make sure it's to your taste, you can still modify it at this point.



When the beetroot is cooked, and you can test that by inserting a sharp knife into a couple of them, pour off the water and let the beets cool down a little - just enough for your to handle them. Then, with clean hands, slip the skins off. It's easy to do. You'll end up with shiny, smooth beetroot, ready to slice or cut. You can see in the photo above that the lighter coloured beetroot has been skinned.




You want everything to be warm to hot - the jars, the beetroot and the pickling liquid. Get your sterilised jar/s and cut the beetroot into the jar. When it's full, pour over the hot pickling liquid. Seal the jars immediately and let them sit on the kitchen bench until the next day. Then store either in the cupboard or fridge. When you open the jars for the first time, store them in the fridge after that. They'll be at their best after a couple of weeks maturing in the jar and before about three months.

30 comments:

  1. Great post! I also have a couple of overdue beetroot still in the garden and I was wondering what to do with them. I am going to give this a try tomorrow.

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  2. Thank you for the recipe and preserving instructions Rhonda. I love pickled beetroot.

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  3. Hi Rhonda, thank you for this recipe and explanation! I have a little question left: what do you mean by sealing of the jars? Just put the lid on, or does anything have to be done with the jars? thank you!

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    Replies
    1. Yes Annemarie, just put the lid on and tighten it. That's all.

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  4. Wow I am going to give it a go thanks

    Linda :-)

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  5. Perfect timing as i am picking some beetroot from our garden this weekend and have been meaning to look for a recipe. Your recipe sounds and looks deliscious!

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  6. Am I the only one who likes fresh, steamed beets with butter and salt? Oh so yummy.

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    1. We enjoy them that way as well, also roasted and grated raw, my personal favourite.

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  7. I learned to turn the jars upside down, in order to get them to seal. I guess that's not necessary here? It all sounds delicious!

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  8. Hi Rhonda,
    Thankyou for this post, a love of beetroot is a fairly recent thing for me, and I am ashamed to say I hadn't even thought of pickling it!! I will be doing this for sure.
    I do, however, preserve many other things, preserving is a fantastic way of ensuring that we make the most out of our home grown harvest and those cheap boxes of seasonal fruit, and avoid buying fruits and vegetables out of season. I was lucky enough to be gifted a Fowlers Vacola unit (complete with a local paper from 1977 that all the jars were wrapped in!!) from my aunty, but completely agree that you do not need any fancy equipment to be able to preserve. Before I had the FV unit, I used the oven to sterilise jars etc.
    Nowadays, there is nothing that instills more pride in my work as a homemaker than a lineup of colourful jars full of preserved food in the bottom of my pantry.
    Have a lovely week!
    Nicole.

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  9. Thanks for the recipe, I will be doing this next fall. Last fall we ate all our beets not a one left to can and they were so good. have you ever made pickled eggs with beet juice?

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  10. We love pickled beetroot, I dont think we will ever eat the bought stuff again!

    xx

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  11. Hi Rhonda - I have just bought a couple of preserving jars that have two part lids. One part is a screw ring and the other is metal but with an attached rubber seal (which its says is one use only). Do I sterilise them in the oven as well as the glass bits. Also it talks about heat sealing them but it gives no instructions - apparently the vacuum is supposed to create itself on cooling. Any ideas what this is all about? I was about to pickle onions but my recollection of onion pickling is that they are put in the vinegar cold and so heat doesn't come into the process. xxx

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    1. Hi Lily,

      I use these all the time. My Gran taught me to sterilise them by putting all the lids and rings in a large bowl and pouring a kettle of boiling water over them so they are submerged. Use tongs to retrieve them when your jars are filled and ready to go. To seal them, just tighten the rings firmly. Once the contents are cooled (I usually wait 24 hours or so) you can remove the rings.

      Hope that helps!
      Josie.

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  12. This is very special! I like 'rode bietjes'. Often we eat it with small piece of apple in it and fried bacon. Thanks for this recipe.

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  13. Rhonda, thanks for that information. We tried to preserve some of our beautiful home grown peaches last year but they went frothy and foul and couldn't be eaten. Ideas for why this happened ranged from not enough liquid in the jars to not sterilising the jars properly. Do you know why this might have happened and what we can do to make sure it doesn't happen this year? The peach tree looks like it will have another brilliant crop and we don't want to waste any! Cheers Judy xx

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  14. Looks quick and easy and your photos certainly detail the process well. Do you make a sweet-fire version of this recipe? My hubby has been at me to make some for him and I'm looking for a decent recipe.

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  15. Hi Rhonda, I nmake relishes and pickles, but I get confused with the lids you are meant to use. You read that recipes with vinegar in them should not be stored in jars with metallic lids. Do you steer away from jars or lids that have metal lids?

    Jo

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  16. Hi Rhonda, I made your pickled beetroot a couple of days ago and I'm very happy with it.I absolutely love your blog, the information I get from it is very motherly.I lost my Mother to cancer six years ago and even though you're not much older than me you feel like my mum :-). Every time I think of something I would have asked my mum I find the answer on your blog. Thank you!

    Have a Merry Christmas

    Tricia xo

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    1. Thanks Tricia. I'm pleased the beetroot recipe worked well for you. Merry Christmas, love.

      Rhonda xx

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  17. Hi I want to try your pickeling recipe but I havnt any jars. I do have a tupperware container for beetroot\pickled onions though.can I use that? And how long do I have to wait before I can eat them? Thanks :-)

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    1. you can put it in a plastic container and you can eat it a few days after you make it up but it's better if it's left a couple of weeks.

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  18. Hi - I pickled some beetroot last year and I went to open a jar and the beetroot has a 'fizzing' sensation to it - does anyone know why this is and is it safe to eat?

    thanks

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    1. Sounds like it's contaminated and it's been fermenting. Did you sterilise your jars?

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  19. Hi Rhonda
    Love your great informative recipe - my son loves beetroot but as he is on a sugar free diet we have not been able to have it - do you know if I could use anything else instead of the sugar? I'm not a cooker so not sure if the sugar is nessacary for the Pickering or if its just for flavour? Can I leave it out or use honey?? Thanks Rochelle

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    1. Sorry Rochelle, I've only made it using sugar. There may be a honey recipe on the web though.

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  20. Hi,
    Thanks for such an easy to follow recipe! I had always wanted to try pickling but didn't have sterilizing equipment so the simple tip of putting the jars in the oven was actually a bit of a revelation to me! I have pickled my beetroot now and I can't wait to try it, how long should I wait? I hope you don't mind if I link my blog to yours?
    Thanks, Anne

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    1. Hi Anjemina, pickling is really easy and once you understand the fundamentals, you can apply them to just about anything. If you're looking for a good book on fermentation try Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. I's been out a few years so it might be at your library. Linking is fine. Good luck!

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    2. Thanks! I'll have a look for that book, thanks for the pointer. I've got a bit more beetroot and some onions to experiment with next!

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  21. Thank you for a very clear idea of how to pickle beetroot. I am 70 and am just about to pick my first crop of beetroot. (I agree; I am slow off the mark) and I look forward to picling them. Thanks. Trevor C.

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