Canned Pickled Beets a la Robin Mather

I’ve slightly modified Robin Mather’s recipe for pickled beets. If you don’t (or would rather not) can, you can refrigerate these for several months. Additionally, I’m including a recipe for pickling spice in another post. Feel free to use a purchased blend.

Makes about 3-4 pints

What You’ll Need

  • large saucepan for cooking the beets
  • very large pot for canning
  • pint-sized canning jars such as Ball, plus lids and bands
  • jar tongs (for lifting jars into/out of boiling water), lid magnet, jar rack (or cooling rack), and canning funnel
  • GLOVES—beets stain everything magenta and therefore I’ve capitalized this item
  • knife for slicing beets and onions
  • cutting board
  • ladle or large spoon to scoop the beet mixture into the jars via the funnel
  • damp but clean rag or paper towel
  • plastic knife or chopstick


  • 2 pounds beets; don’t worry if you have a little more
  • 3 Tbsp pickling spice
  • 1 Tbsp black peppercorns; do not substitute ground pepper!
  • 8-10 whole cloves; do not substitute ground cloves! Also, cloves are strong, so feel free to omit if you don’t like them or you have plenty of cloves in your pickling spice
  • 2.5 cups white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups sliced onions; I’ve used sweet onions (such as Vidalia) and plain yellow ones

Preparing the jars for canning; skip if you plan to refrigerate these

  1. Fill up your large canning pot. I have an 11.5 quart Graniteware pot with a dented lid, but any pot large enough to hold the jars with an inch of water on top will do.
  2. Place your jar rack in the pot. If you don’t have a jar rack (and I don’t use one for pint-sized jars), place a small circular cake-cooling rack in the bottom of your pot. The idea is to keep the bottoms of your jars from being in contact with the bottom of the pot. The cake rack allows water to flow beneath the jars.
  3. Bring your pot of water to an almost boil (think 190°F/90°C); use a thermometer if you have one. The hot water will sterilize the jars. While the water in the pot is heating, wash your jars, bands, funnel, and ladle in hot, soapy water. Rinse the jars and tools to get rid of any soap.
  4. Once your water is hot enough, place the jars in the pot, making sure that the open end is up and the jars are filled with water. Make sure that the water is returned to the same temperature—190°F. Cover the pot with the lid and keep the jars immersed for at least 10 minutes.

Preparing the Beets

  1. Wash and scrub the beets. Cut off the attached beet greens1, leaving no more than an inch on the bulb.
  2. Place the beets in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil.
  3. Cook until a wooden skewer easily pierces through the beet. This can take 25-30 minutes, depending upon the size of the beets.
  4. Drain the beets, rinse with cold water, and let them cool until you can handle them with your (GLOVE-COVERED!) hands.
  5. With your hands and a paring knife, remove the skins from the beets. They should come off fairly easily. Discard the skins (or put them in your compost pile).
  6. Slice the beets into ½-inch pieces.

Making Pickled Beets

  1. Prepare the brine. Put the pickling spice, peppercorns, and cloves into a spice bag and tie it with kitchen twine; you can make a spice bag with a square piece of cheesecloth.
  2. Add the vinegar, water, sugar, and spice bag into a large saucepan (nonreactive, such as stainless steel, please!) Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Stir the mixture in order to completely dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat to reach a slow, gentle boil, and cook for 15 minutes.
  3. Place the canning lids into a clean bowl and cover with boiling water. The lids have a rubbery seal, which needs to soften in hot water. The rubber is what will adhere to your glass jars.
  4. Remove the spice bag from the mixture. Add the beets, then add the onions to the liquid brine. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.
  5. Using a jar lifter, remove the canning jars from the canning pot. Place them on a clean towel or rag. Place the funnel on the first jar and using your ladle, fill with beets and onions. Do the same with the other jars.
  6. Using your ladle, add the brine to the jars. Fill the jars so that there is a ½-inch (1.25 cm) space between the top of beets/onion/brine mixture and the top of the glass jar. That is the “headspace” and it’s necessary for the expansion of the jar’s contents. Too little headspace and you run a greater chance of having the contents interfere with the lid sealing process.
  7. Using a plastic knife or a chopstick, remove any air bubbles in your jars. Simply place the plastic knife into the jar and move it around or press on the contents a couple of times.
  8. With your damp towel, wipe the rims of the jars. This is to remove any residue that may interfere with the lid sealing process.
  9. Using your jar magnet, remove a lid from the hot water. Place the lid on top of the jar’s rim. Then select a band and carefully screw the band onto the jar; you should feel some resistance, but you don’t want to over-tighten the band. The band should hold the lid in place during the canning process. Repeat for all jars.
  10. Place the jars in your canning pot, making sure that they are covered with water by at least one inch (2.5 cm). Bring the pot to a boil, cover, and (maintaining a boil) process for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, turn off the heat, remove the cover, and let sit in the hot water for 5 minutes.
  11. Using your jar lifter, remove the jars and place on a clean towel away from drafts. Let them cool for 24 hours (don’t touch them!) You may hear the lids pop or ping, indicating that they have sealed. Don’t worry if you don’t hear this—sometimes it takes a long time and sometimes the pop is barely audible.
  12. After cooling, test the seals. Lift up the jar by the lid; it should be fixed to the jar. Also, press down on the center of the lid—if the lid can be popped up and down, the seal has failed.
  13. If any seal has failed, simply store your beets in the refrigerator for a few months.
  14. Store out of heat and light for up to a year (although, to be honest, I ate a jar after 2 years and lived to tell the tale).
  15. Pickled Beets

    A jar of pickled beets is a welcome sight in one’s pantry,

Do not eat these right away—you want the spices to be infused into the beets, which can take a few weeks (regardless of whether you canned or refrigerated them).

1No need to throw away the beet greens. I cook them (washed and sliced) in some chicken or vegetable broth until tender, add salt and pepper, and then top with a poached egg for a very nutritious meal.


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