Beets keep perfectly well in a cold cellar, so for me pickling them is not essential for preservation. I pickle beets because it is nice to have them ready to use and because I welcome the sweet-sour flavor for variety. It is also a grand way to use up the tiny beets among the larger ones that you pull out of the garden at the end of growing season when it is evident that they are simply not going to get bigger before it is too cold for any growth at all.
The larger beets store better than small ones, but there have been times when I have boiled up a bunch to slice for pickling beets simply to have some.
The pickle is the simplest thing in the word. Equal quantities of sugar and vinegar diluted to taste with water if you wish, but left sharp enough to do the job of pickling. I dilute by adding a half part of water to the vinegar and sugar. A whole clove or an allspice berry or two per jar is a good idea but not necessary.
Next to bean cookery, beets are a great reason to use a pressure cooker. I know that pressure cookers seem a little scary to the uninitiated. Modern pressure cookers are so safe and easy to use that it no longer requires courage to buy and use one. They can save you energy because they cook quickly, and they can bail you out of a tight time spot.
I pile the unpeeled beets, not topped or tailed, into the cooker, add just a little water and fire it up. Within minutes, I take it off the stove, let the pressure drop off, or if I want to hurry along a little, I run it under cold water. Then I cool the beets until can handle them and pinch them out of their skins.
When I cook beets for pickling, I make sure I have my sterilized jars set to go, lids and rings out, and the vinegar and sugar mixture hot. As soon as the beets are skinned, I pack them into the jars, and add the pickle, the cloves or allspice, then process them in a boiling water bath for a minimum of 15 minutes. That seems to be all that it takes.
I serve them cold as a relish. I cut them up and put them in salads, mix them with chopped cucumber. They are good added to apples in a Waldorf-style salad. A couple of times, I have even made them into Harvard beets. I just add a sauce made with cornstarch and water to the beets and the vinegar and sugar mixture in the jar and heat it all up.
Plan on using a pound to a pound and a half of raw beets per pint jar. (Double that for quarts.)
Yields varying amounts according to number of beets.
Cooked, peeled beets
One part sugar (for example, 1 cup)
One part vinegar (1 cup)
Half a part water (½ cup)
Whole cloves or whole allspice (optional)
Set canner on stove to heat up before you begin packing beets. Sterilize jars, and make up the vinegar, sugar and water mixture. Cook beets and keep them hot while you bring vinegar mixture to a boil. Pack the beets in the jars, add the spices, and put the lids on. Load the canner and process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes (half an hour if you are a worrywart.)