Safe Preserving: What to do when a trip to NYC is cancelled?

beetsWhat is any self-respecting person to do when a weekend trip to New York City with her twin sister and daughter is suddenly cancelled?…Why canning beets, of course!  My daughter and I were scheduled to spend a weekend in NYC with my twin sister, sightseeing and shopping prior to the start of the fall semester.  Our flight was first delayed and then cancelled, so we ended up not traveling. I used the time at home to can the 35 (+) pounds of beets that my husband harvested from our garden.

It’s been a great growing season in Wisconsin.  Our potatoes are harvested and in storage. We have been enjoying almost more tomatoes than we can eat, the zucchini is too plentiful (as always), and the kale has been delicious.  In my family we are eating green beans at most every meal and I plan to can green beans this coming weekend.  The carrots are still in the ground, but those will be harvested soon. In short, a great summer in Wisconsin!

I had never canned beets before and I wanted to share the few things I learned along the way.

1. Beets are a low-acid food. If you can beets in water, then you must use a pressure canner. (Pickled beets are canned in a boiling water canner.) There are two types of pressure canners, a dial gauge and a weighted gauge canner. If you use a dial gauge, like I did, be sure to have the gauge tested to make sure it is accurate before using the canner. Most county Extension offices in Wisconsin test canner gauges.

2. Beets are cooked prior to filling in the jar. Because beets have such a firm texture, they must be cooked, or partially cooked, prior to placing them in the jar. After cooking, slip the skins off, remove the tops and root, and slice, cut into wedges, or, for small beets, can them whole.

3. Fill prepared standard canning jars with beets, then add boiling hot water to 1″ headspace.  Even though I worked quickly, the beets I was processing cooled down a good bit as I was removing the skins and preparing them for the jars. I kept my jars hot in a Nesco roaster and added very hot water to the jars; this helped warm the beets up so they started the process off right. You can add salt to each jar, if desired. We use 1″ headspace for low-acid meats and vegetables, 1/2″ headspace for pickled products, salsas and the like, and 1/4″ headspace for jams and jellies.

4. Place a standard 2-piece canning lid on the jar; the band is tightened finger-tip tight. In home canning the air needs to escape from the jars during the canning process, so the bands are tightened only finger-tip tight. If you tighten the lids too much, you risk jar breakage and possible spoilage later.

5. Place filled jars on a rack in a canner with ~2″ of very hot water in the base. Place the lid on the canner, turn the heat on high, and wait for the canner to vent for 10 full minutes. Venting is important since it removes air from the canner. Air trapped in the canner may interfere with heat transfer and your canner may fail to pressurize or your product may be underprocessed (and unsafe).

6. After venting, seal the vent port and allow the canner to pressurize. I canned beets in pint jars so the process time was 30 minutes (at 11 psi) at my elevation (under 1,000 feet). Always adjust processing for elevation, as needed.

At the end of the processing time, turn off the heat and allow the canner to cool naturally. The cooling process is an important part in the overall lethality of the canning process.  Once the canner depressurizes, remove the jars and allow them to cool on the counter. During the winter, I hope to enjoy plain cooked beets, and I might even pickle some of the beets prior to serving them to my family. Safe preserving! Barb