Every summer I dedicate at least one afternoon to putting food by. It’s not planned very far in advance. In fact this year I made the decision on Thursday afternoon on my way home from the Bellevue Farmers Market to pickle and can on Friday. I had a box of tomatoes ripening fast at home, but I found the ideal small and tender pickling cucumbers from Willie Green’s Organic Farm and some fresh flowering dill from Alm Hill Gardens, for further motivation.
I had accumulated a couple of pounds of chiogga beets and some wax beans from the Growing Things Farm CSA share so the canning plan came together like this: 7 pints and 2 quarts canned tomatoes, 4 pints spicy cucumber dills, 6 jars pickled jalapenos, 1 refrigerated quart of pickled beets and 1 pint pickled wax beans.
I used up jars and bands that I saved from last year and I buy extra new lids each year in various sizes to minimize last minute trips to the hardware store. I made do with what I had on hand and it worked. After six hours I put up twenty-one jars of shelf stable pickles and tomatoes using three recipes, and assembled one quart crock of Werth and O’Brien’s pickled beets for the refrigerator. The recipe is adapted from my book, Pickled: Preserving A World of Tastes and Traditions (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2003).
Werth and O’Brien’s Pickled Beets
Werth and O’Brien’s Delicatessen was located in the Flatbush part of Brooklyn (Flatbush Avenue and Clarendon Street) in New York until the 1970’s. Among the many house-made specialities, the store displayed trays of loose pickles behind the deli counter. The deli is long gone, but the recipe for the house-made pickled beets survives thanks to Jane Wilson Morton, a grand-daughter of the owners Frank O’Brien and Otto Werth. Jane contributed two German-style recipes for my book and there is a fun black and white photo of the owners inside the deli circa 1950’s (hint: It’s on page 86).
4 cups of cooked sliced beets (approximately 2.5 lbs.)
1 cup of white distilled vinegar
1/2 cup of water
1/2 cup of dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons pickling spice tied into a cheesecloth bag or tea strainer
Boil the whole raw beets with the stem intact until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain over the sink and let cool. Use your hands to slide the skins and stems off the root and then compost. Slice beets into a bowl, glass crock or quart jar and set aside.
To make the brine, combine the vinegar, sugars and spice bag in a saucepan over medium high heat and stir to dissolve sugars. Bring the ingredients to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes until it forms a thin syrup. Carefully pour the hot syrup over the cool sliced beets (a glass bowl is best), remove and discard the spice bag and let cool. Refrigerate for 2-3 days so the beets absorb the flavors. Keep refrigerated and these beets will stay good and safe to eat for weeks up to a couple of months. They are so good, you won’t need to store them very long.
Jane suggested add thin rings of red onion to the cooling mixture. This is a quick pickle recipe and it’s delicious using any kind of beet. This time I used chiogga beets.