It’s harvest season, so there’s no time for chit chat now. I’ve got a bucket of cucumbers ready to pickle, plus plum jam to can, tomatoes to roast and freeze… That’s just the start.
This is our chance to put up all the local food we can for the long winter ahead. Have you noticed the mornings are dawnier and the evenings duskier?
So, why pickle? Even if you’ve never tried it before?
- If you have access to your own garden, a friend’s, a community garden, a farmer’s market (and these days most people do, thank goodness) or any local produce at all, you probably have more produce than you can use at one time. Pickles are the answer to overabundance.
- Pickles are the easiest and quickest preserving method for produce of all kinds, from beans to onions to beets. You can make a small batch and you don’t have to seal them in jars. Just stick ’em in the fridge.
- If you follow the basic ratio of vinegar to water, you can improvise with your favorite pickling spices. Like ’em hot? Add a pinch of red chile flakes. More garlic? Go for it. Pickles are personal.
- If you make a batch of pickles and love the brine, save it and reuse it over again. Now that’s some home economy for you!
- With a jar of pickles in the fridge–or in my case dozens, which is why everyone I know has a spare fridge–you’ll never be short on healthy snacks. I even pull them out for a vegetable option at dinner.
- The best part, IMHO, is that no matter how busy you are, you’ll always have something homemade on hand to bring to a party, a potluck or to offer friends as an appetizer or gift.
While some crops demand to be pickled shorty after harvest, others take to pickling at any time of year. So, when I’m overwhelmed with the end-of-summer produce, I let the beets, carrots, onions, salad turnips and cauliflower hang out in cold storage until later.
Improvise! These baby pickled beets are from thinning beets at my friend Beth’s farm. You can pretty much pickle anything.
Late in the season is a great time to check in with local farmers who may have an ample supply of the less-sexy crops, like beets. (Though I’m completely enamored of these ruby jewels!)
Or, you may know a gardener overwhelmed with their bounty. That’s how I often end up with extra beets for canning, since my raised-bed garden is pretty small potatoes–if you know what I mean.
To get you started, here are links to 3 of my most favorite easy pickle recipes:
- Refrigerator dill pickles Do this while the cucumbers last.
- Quick carrot pickles For taco night.
- 5-minute pickled red onion The lowly onion transformed.
And then there is my winning pickled beets recipe, adapted from the great Ball Blue Book of Preserving over the years. I slip in some onions because they taste great in this brine.
And when you’re already making pickles, why not make two for one? The beets cook right in the brine and the onions turn a gorgeous magenta color.
I even slip in some hard-boiled eggs into the brine for beet-pickled eggs, but that’s another story.
Pickled Beets & Onions
This is the formula I use every year to pickle batches of locally grown beets. It produces a pleasing sweet-and-sour pickle highlighted with the ginger and spices. When preparing beets for pickling, I like to leave an inch or so of the tasty stems. As for the onions, you can substitute cippolini or pearl onions for the spring onions, or leave them out altogether.
- 12 small beets, about 2 inches in diameter
- 12 spring onions
- 1 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon whole allspice
- 4 1/-inch slices fresh ginger unpeeled
- 1 whole star anise
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
Scrub the beets well and trim the tops, leaving them whole. Peel the onions and trim off the root ends and the green parts of the stem (you can reserve them to use like scallions).
Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, allspice, ginger, star anise and salt in a stockpot. Add the beets and onions and bring to a boil over medium heat.
Reduce the heat to simmer the beets and onions until they are fork tender, 35-45 minutes.
Cool the beets and onions in the pickling liquid. Transfer them into a quart-sized canning jars and store in the refrigerator for up to three months to use at will.