Plain canned beets (aka beet root in the UK) are delicious. What a treat to be able to pull a jar off the shelf on a weeknight, zap in microwave and serve with some sour cream and a sprinkle of dill weed on a blustery winter’s evening. Or toss in some olive oil or duck fat and have them roasting in the oven within seconds.
These directions follow the USDA recommendations.
When canned with a pressure canner following the USDA procedure, plain beets are a high quality, safe product. Otherwise, freeze plain beets. Or pickle them. Never water bath plain beets: the documentation trail of illness from doing that is as old as the hills. (See: Botulism in America.) PLEASE DO NOT ASK US IF PLAIN BEETS MUST BE CANNED WITH A PRESSURE CANNER, AS THERE IS NOT AND NEVER WILL BE ANY OTHER ANSWER THAN ‘YES, THEY MUST BE’.
To be clear for people outside North America, this procedure just applies to the root (tuber) part — the beetroot. The beet tops (aka greens) can indeed also be canned, but they must be canned separately and there is a separate procedure for that.
See also: Different recipes for canning beets.
- 1 Quantities of beets needed
- 2 The recipe
- 3 Canning plain beets
- 4 Reference information
- 5 Recipe notes
- 6 Recipe source
- 7 Nutrition
- 8 Canned beets losing their colour
- 9 Judging criteria for plain canned beets
- 10 Pressure-canning only for plain beets
- 11 History
- 12 Cooking with home-canned beets recipes
- 13 Further reading
Quantities of beets needed
Numbers are approximate guidelines.
On average, as a very rough guideline, expect to need about 1 ¼ kg (3 lbs) of beets per 1 litre (US quart) jar of canned beets.
- 9 ½ kg kg (21 lb) of beets = 7 litres (US quarts) canned beets
- 6 kg (13.5 lbs ) of beets = 9 x ½ litres (US pints) canned beets
- 1 US bushel beets = 23 ½ kg (52 lbs) = 15 to 20 litres (US quarts) canned beets
10 medium ( 9 cm / 3 inches) raw beets, skin on = 2 kg (4 ½ pounds).
Jar size choices: Either half-litre (1 US pint) OR 1 litre (1 US quart)
Processing method: Pressure canning only
Headspace: 3 cm (1 inch)
Processing pressure: 10 lbs (69 kPa) weighted gauge, 11 lbs (76 kpa) dial gauge (adjust pressure for your altitude when over 300 metres / 1000 feet)
Processing time: Half-litres (pints) 30 minutes; litres (quarts) 35 minutes
Canning plain beets
- Trim beet tops off, leaving 2 to 3 cm (an inch).
- Leave any roots on.
- Scrub beets well.
- Put beets in a large pot.
- Cover with boiling water. Bring back to the boil, and boil for 15 to 25 minutes -- until it looks like you can persuade the skins to come off easily.
- Remove beets from pot, and let them cool just enough to handle safely. Don't cool them beyond that; the beets should be at least warm going into the jars. The processing time is based on that assumption.
- Trim off roots and remaining stem bit, and peel.
- Leave very small beets whole; cut large ones into slices, or into 1 cm (½ inch) cubes. Cut very wide slides in half.
- Pack into half-litre (US pint) jars or 1 litre (US quart) jars.
- Leave 3 cm (1 inch) headspace.
- Optional: to each smaller jar, add ½ teaspoon of salt OR non-bitter, non-clouding salt sub. (Use 1 teaspoon for the larger jars.)
- Top up with clean boiling water (such as from a kettle, for instance), maintaining headspace.
- Debubble, adjust headspace.
- Wipe jar rims.
- Put lids on.
- Processing time: half-litre (US pint) jars for 30 minutes OR 1 litre (US quart) jars for 35 minutes.
Processing guidelines below are for weighted-gauge pressure canner. See also if applicable: Dial-gauge pressures.
|Jar Size||Time||0 to 300 m (0 - 1000 feet) pressure||Above 300 m (1000 ft) pressure|
|½ litre (1 US pint)||30 mins||10 lbs||15 lb|
|1 litre (1 US quart)||35 mins||10 lbs||15 lb|
How to pressure can.
When pressure canning, you must adjust the pressure for your altitude.
More information about Salt-Free Canning in general.
The purpose of leaving the roots and a bit of the stem on during the pre-cooking is to reduce some colour loss (in theory — there will still be a heck of a lot lost, so don’t get your hopes up.)
How long exactly you need to boil the beets will depend on the size of them. If you are doing a lot, it’s a good idea to separate batches by size for more even cooking.
Beets must be canned peeled. You are reducing the bacterial load going into the jars in doing so, and the procedure is counting on that to have happened.
The procedure tested expects the beets to be at least somewhat warm if not hotter going into the jars — so however tempting it is to chill them in ice water to make them more comfortable to peel, don’t. If for whatever reason they are no longer reasonably warm, zap beet pieces in microwave to re-heat before putting into the jars.
The salt is just there for seasoning. It is not a safety control factor.
Pre-cooking the beets
The overall point is that the beets must to be pre-cooked a bit, until the skins come off easily. And to reinforce that last notion, yes, they must be peeled. And, they must go into the jars hot, not cold, even if that means you have to re-heat them somehow.
That being said, we looked at two energy saving ways to pre-cook the beets.
1. If you have a steam canner, of the multi-canner type, you could try steaming them.
2. Pre-cooking the beets in a pressure cooker might not always save a lot of time when it comes to preparing beets for this recipe, but it will save resources such as cooking fuel and water, with the bonus of avoiding a steamy kitchen. Note that when you are boiling beets in an open pot, it is easy to fish out the smaller ones as they are ready and to leave the larger ones in longer. You can’t do that when pressure cooking them, so it can be useful to sort big bags of various-sized beets into sizes, and process in a batch or two based on size, to avoid overcooking the smaller ones.
To be clear, the following is NOT processing times for jars, they are pre-cooking suggestions for the beets as you prepare the recipe. And these are just suggestions. Times will vary based on how many beets you load at once into your pressure cooker. And bear this contradiction in mind: the more beets you have in at once, the greater the “come up to speed” and “cooling down” times which means you are getting a longer cooking time overall so the LESS actual cooking time at pressure is needed.
Medium beets (up to around 10 cm / 4 inches, larger ones sorted out for a separate load). 9 kg / 20 lbs. of beets at once in a 23 quart Presto at 15 pounds, try 3 minutes with 1 ½ litres / quarts of water. Afterward, natural release. This should produce beets that are easy to peel.
Beets – Whole, Cubed or Sliced. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Complete guide to home canning. Agriculture information bulletin No. 539. 2015. Page 4-9.
Modifications: none, though we did try to see if more energy-efficient ways of pre-cooking them before canning could be used.
Per 250 g (½ pound / 1 cup cooked, chopped or sliced):
- 124 calories, 2 mg sodium
- Weight Watchers PointsPlus®: Any quantity = 0 points (free on Weight Watchers)
* Nutrition info provided by https://caloriecount.about.com
* PointsPlus™ calculated by healthycanning.com. Not endorsed by Weight Watchers® International, Inc, which is the owner of the PointsPlus® registered trademark.
Canned beets losing their colour
Penn State Extension says,
The red pigments in beets (betalaines) are sensitive to high temperatures and can transform into a colorless compound during canning. Some varieties are more sensitive than others. The reaction is reversible and often the color of the canned product will return to a darker red after a few days of storage at room temperature. Some people recommend that you leave two inches (5 cm) of stem and tap root attached to the beets before boiling to remove the skins. Then trim the stem and root and slice, dice or leave whole for canning.”  Preparing Beets —Whole, Cubed, or Sliced for Canning” . Red Beets (losing colour in canning. Penn State Extension. Accessed January 2015.
Two good varieties for canning that hold their colour are: (a) ‘Detroit Dark Red’ Sturdy, which is round, and (b) Formanova, which are long beets. But, you would pretty much have to grow them yourself to ensure that you are getting them.
But as noted above by Penn State, with some other varieties, the faded colour may return on its own to being a deeper red after a short time in the jars.
Judging criteria for plain canned beets
The National Center for Home Food Preservation’s judging criteria for beets says,
Must be canned peeled. Beets less than 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter may be canned whole; larger beets should be sliced or cubed. Uniform size and shape. Color should be dark, deep, and even. Brownish-red or faded color or white rings are undesirable. Liquid should be sparkling clear, red color with no cloudiness or sediment. Free from stems and roots or any traces of skin. Free from fibrous appearance (beets over 3 inches / 7 cm in diameter are often fibrous).  National Center for Home Food Preservation. Judging Home Preserved Foods. August 2003. Page 28.
Pressure-canning only for plain beets
The Putting Food By authors remind home canners that it’s pressure canning only for plain beets.
Only Pressure Canning for beets: they rank with home-canned string beans as carriers of C. botulinum toxin. Because they’re firm-fleshed, use Hot pack only.”  Hertzberg, Ruth; Greene, Janet; Vaughan, Beatrice (2010-05-25). Putting Food By: Fifth Edition (p. 136). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
From 1990 to 2012, there have been at least 10 people afflicted with botulism from beets that were water-bathed instead of being pressure-canned. (You can review the causes for those years in the US.)
But don’t panic: sucking on a raw piece of chicken would be dangerous, too. But if you cook chicken properly, you don’t give it a second thought. In the same vein, just pressure-can your beets according to directions and put them on your shelves, worry-free.
To be clear: this is the historical section, for educational purposes only. Don’t follow any of these directions; only use current USDA directions.
As early as 1926, advice to pressure can beets was being given out by the USDA. The USDA also explained why:
Because of spoilage difficulties and the risk of poisoning from occasional contamination with botulinus bacteria when nonacid vegetables are canned by the waterbath method, the department recommends the canning of such vegetables with the steam-pressure canner…… Baby beets.—Only young, tender beets should be canned, and the turnip shaped varieties make a more attractive product. Wash thoroughly and scald in boiling water or steam for about 15 minutes until the skins slip easily. Leave on at least 1 inch of the stems and all of the roots during this cooking to prevent bleeding. Slip off the skins, fill into the containers, add 1 teaspoon of salt to each quart, and fill with hot water. Process immediately at 10 pounds pressure, or 240° F., quart glass jars for 40 minutes, pint glass jars for 35 minutes, and No. 2 and No. 3 tin cans for 30 minutes.”  Stanley, Louise. Canning Fruits and Vegetables at Home. Washington, DC: USDA. Farmers’ Bulletin No. 1471. Page 19.
(As an aside, note that the processing times needed were presumed to be 5 minutes longer back then.)
Despite that previous safe advice, some home canning books issued by University Extensions during the Second World War era reverted to giving out dangerous advice about home canning beets.
Beets, Acid Method: Boil beets for 20 minutes, remove skins and pack beets in jars. Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar to each pint jar and fill with boiling water. Do not add salt, for it tends to draw out the color. Process for 1 ½ hours in boiling water. Beets canned under steam pressure are likely to lose much of their colour, so where acid flavor is not objectionable, this method helps preserve the color.”  Cameron, Janet L. and Mary L. Thompson. Home Bulletin No. 128. Blacksburg, Virginia: Virginia Agricultural Extension Service. Revised June 1944. Page 10. Access March 2015.
Note the false, unsafe assumption that a bit of vinegar would make plain beets safe for boiling water processing. Perhaps they were trying to be helpful, as pressure canners were rationed during the war owing to metal being needed for the war effort. Still, the dangerous advice lingers on.
Do not follow that slightly acidified advice or assume that because it’s old advice, it’s magically wise. Remember, even older advice pre-dates it, saying that such water-bathing of beets is unsafe.
Cooking with home-canned beets recipes
Christian, Kasey. Plain or pickled, they make great treats. What are they? Yes, they’re Beets! Preserving Food at Home blog. 18 February 2015.
|↑1||Preparing Beets —Whole, Cubed, or Sliced for Canning” . Red Beets (losing colour in canning. Penn State Extension. Accessed January 2015.|
|↑2||National Center for Home Food Preservation. Judging Home Preserved Foods. August 2003. Page 28.|
|↑3||Hertzberg, Ruth; Greene, Janet; Vaughan, Beatrice (2010-05-25). Putting Food By: Fifth Edition (p. 136). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.|
|↑4||Stanley, Louise. Canning Fruits and Vegetables at Home. Washington, DC: USDA. Farmers’ Bulletin No. 1471. Page 19.|
|↑5||Cameron, Janet L. and Mary L. Thompson. Home Bulletin No. 128. Blacksburg, Virginia: Virginia Agricultural Extension Service. Revised June 1944. Page 10. Access March 2015.|