My favorite recipe is one that we used at Firestone Farm. I have slightly modified the original, as Lettice Bryan, the wonderful author of "The Kentucky Housewife" - 1839, crocked her pickles, and I preserve mine by canning. Other than this small modification, I stick to her recipe.
I grow my own beets, and these are an heirloom variety, known as "Detroit Dark Red", and they are a beautiful beet. I harvest them all at once, and the greens are cooked up like spinach.
Detroit Dark Red
I am going to quote liberally here from "The Kentucky Housewife", as Lettice Bryan was not only an awesome cook, but a very good writer. Once I wash off the beets outside in the hose, I cut off the greens, but as Lettice advises "Trim off the tops, but do not break off the roots nor the outer skin, which would cause them to fade or lose their color in boiling." So, I leave about 1/2 inch of the tops, so as not to cause my beets to bleed.
Once they are cleaned, "Put them in a kettle of cold water, and boil them gently till you can pierce them through with a fork; then scrape off the skin, (this may be done nicer by throwing them into cold water as soon as you take them from the boil,)" Throwing them in the cold water really does help, and it also stops them from getting too soft. Because I am going to be processing them, which further softens them, I boil them until they are just tender, not necessarily soft enough for a fork to go all the way through.
The next step is getting them ready for canning. Here Lettice says to lightly salt and pepper them, put them in a crock, and "cover them with plain cold vinegar." In the introduction to canning, Lettice does recommend putting a piece of horseradish in the crock to keep the vinegar clear. I do the same, and it adds an awesome twist to the beets. For crocking, a very old way of pickling, this would suffice. The crock would be placed in the "cold room," a special brick-lined room in the cellar that is colder and dryer than the rest of the house or cellar. The pickles would be weighted down with a plate or other object to keep everything under the vinegar. The crock would then be covered with several layers of muslin, and the contents would be checked on cleaning day - Thursday - to make sure that the food was covered, and that no mold was growing. Pickles this way can last quite awhile, and I have eaten year old crocked pickles that tasted great, but I do not have the type of "cold room" that I would need for this method. You could keep them in the fridge today, but you will need space to do so, like an extra fridge in the basement or garage.
I prefer to can my pickled beets, because I have plenty of pantry space, and canned goods will last about 2 years if kept in a cool, dark place. I will be showing both the hot-water bath canning and pressure canning method, because pickled beets can be processed using both methods, as they are an acidic product. Both canning methods use the same preparations, so you can choose either for these pickles.
First, set up your area, and make sure you wash all your canning jars, lids, rings, and equipment in hot soapy water. Once everything is washed, get everything laid out in a way that will be quickest for you to get everything done. When dealing with canning, working quickly and efficiently is helpful and necessary.
Funnel, lid spacer, jar lifter, magnetic lid lifter, cooling rack
Once the equipment is ready, check the beets, and cut in half the ones that are too big for the jars. I am using pint jars, and prefer my beets whole. If you like them cubed or sliced, do that now, or you can leave them whole and cut them when you are serving them, leaving that option open. Also cut your horseradish into about 1 inch thick, quarter round sized pieces. Before you begin canning, you need to heat up the jars, the lids, and the rings. Place the rings and lids in a small sauce pan, cover them with water and heat them over medium, but do not bring this to a boil. If you are using a pressure canner, put the recommended amount of water in the bottom, with a splash of vinegar to keep the water clear, and set the jars in. Put the lid on, but do not lock it, and bring water to a boil. For hot-water canning, fill the jars with water, put them on the rack inside the canner, and fill the canner until the jars are covered, and bring to a boil.
Hot-Water Bath Canner
Once all this is in motion, I start to boil the vinegar. This can really smell up a house quick, so do this last, and just bring the vinegar to a boil only when you are ready to use it.
Once the canner water is boiling, it is time to start canning! With either method, use the jar lifter to remove the jars from the canner, and dump the water out, back into the canner. Quickly, but carefully, place a piece of horseradish in the jar, and then fill each jar with the beets, but leave about 1 1/2 - 2 inches of head space. Carefully fill each jar with the boiling vinegar, leaving 1/2 inch head space for hot-water bath, or 1 inch head space for pressure canning. I use my nifty little head spacer tool, which comes in Ball's canning kit. The head-space if very important, trust me and the 3 broken jars of hot-sauce in the canner from last year.
Beets! - yeah, that is an extra piece of horseradish at the top because...YUM!
Once the jars are filled, and the head-space measured, I use my magnetic lid lifter to lift the new, never used, lids out of the hot water, and place one on each of the jars. The magnetic lid lifter is great, because using the fork method, I burned my fingers way too many times. I still use the fork to lift out the rings, which come next. Twist those on, using hot pads because everything is hot, and when twisted down, tighten the lids finger-tight, but do not wrench them down, this could damage the seals. You will have to use your fingers, but the lids, by this time, should not be too hot.
Place the jars back into the canner. If you are doing hot-water bath, make sure the water comes over the top of the jars, put the lid on the canner, and bring back to a boil. Making sure the canner is at a boil through the whole processing time, process for 30 minutes. Once the 30 minutes is over, turn the heat off, take off the lid and wait about 5 minutes before removing the jars. Place them on the rack to cool.
If you are pressure canning, place the jars in the canner, put the lid on and lock it down. Wait for the steam to come out of the vent and start the count for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, put the pressure control weight on, wait for the pressure to register, and process pint jars for 20 minutes. Once the 20 minutes are done, turn off the heat and let the pressure return to normal. Unlock and remove the lid, and wait about 5 minutes before removing the jars. Place them on the rack to cool.
In the pressure canner, I process for 20 minutes instead of 30 minutes because of the 10 minutes before the pressure weight is added, and the 10-15 minutes after the heat is turned off. During this time, the heat is above 212° F in the canner, which is all you need for acidic foods like pickles. If you feel the need to process under pressure for the full 30 minutes, please do so, as you need to be comfortable with your preserved foods. I have not had problems with this counting on acidic foods, but I will always follow to the last second on low acid foods. Always better to be on the safe side when it comes to your food!