Plain or pickled, they make great treats. What are they? Yes, they’re Beets!

beetsPacked with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, beets are a healthy and delightfully colorful wintertime veggie. (Did you know that Betanin, often used in industrial food production as red food coloring, is from beet root?) Beets are easily roasted, baked, or steamed into a fresh side dish, and there are even more options for preserving them.

Here are a few ways we recommend to preserve those bright and beautiful beets:

If you’re not up for canning, then you can simply freeze beets. Select tender, young beets (ideally 1 to 2 inches diameter) and wash them then sort them according to size. Trim their leafy tops, leaving ½ inch of stems and tap root to prevent the color from bleeding out during cooking. Boil the beets until tender, about 25 to 30 minutes for small beets and 45 to 50 minutes for medium beets. Cool the cooked beets immediately in cold water then peel, remove stem and tap root, and cut into slices or cubes. Leave 1/2-inch headspace in the freezer containers as you pack them, then place in a freezer.cut beets

Beets can also be preserved by pressure canning them in pint or quart size jars. For a full canner load of 9 pints use about 13.5 pounds and for a canner load of 7 quarts use about 21 pounds. Remember, those amounts are averages, obtained by weighing the beets without tops, and there will be natural variance in actual quantities. You will remove skins before canning the beets; to do so, trim off beet tops, leaving an inch of stem and roots (you’ll cut these off later), scrub the beets, boil them for 15 to 25 minutes depending on size, and then cool them just enough to handle without burning yourself, and remove their skins, tops and roots. The beets should remain warm or hot going into the jars.  Baby beets can be left whole, but medium or large beets need to be cut into 1/2-inch cubes or slices. Add one teaspoon salt per quart jar if you like, then fill the jars with the hot beets. Add fresh hot water that has been brought to a boil first (not the water you used to boil the beets with), leaving 1-inch headspace. Process pints for 30 minutes and quarts for 35 minutes in a pressure canner, making altitude adjustments as required in the tables here.

If you prefer boiling water canning and want to try something with more flavor, then try one of our pickled beet recipes. Pickled Beets are highlighted with the flavors of sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and onions (optional) and No Sugar Added Pickled Beets are almost the same, except that the sugar is replaced with a sucralose sweetener.

pickled beets

What Will You Put Up in 2015?

sproutPlanting could be considered to be the first step of putting up. Now that winter is halfway through, are you looking forward to your spring garden? Now is a good time to start making plans for planting, and eventually putting up!

Here are a few tips towards a glorious garden in 2015:

  • Try to figure out how much of your favorite veggie varieties you and family will eat fresh from your garden. You may not be able to come up with a very precise quantity, but start by recalling how much you consumed in past years and then add to that the types and IMG_0077amounts of food you want to preserve. For example, if your family didn’t eat all the cabbage you grew last year then maybe you don’t need to plant so much…or maybe you’ll stick with it and try fermenting sauerkraut or canning a relish with cabbage in it.
  • Measure your space and lay out the garden on paper. Hopefully you did this last year too, so that you can review your records and rotate crops each year to reduce disease and insects. If you are starting a new garden plot, be sure to consider the basic needs of your plants – most vegetables need eight or more hours of full sun (leaf crops like spinach and broccoli require less), and a nearby water supply will make your watering efforts far easier.
  • Buy seeds from a reputable local seller, and buy the best ones – cheaper seeds may have lower germination rates and may not be adapted to your area. UGA Extension has many more tips about Starting Plants From Seed for the Home Gardener.
  • If you decide buy transplants later, then buy those from a reputable local seller as well. Inspect the plants carefully for insects and disease, leaving any such signs on the shelf.
  • Go ahead and contact your local Cooperative Extension office and ask how to take a soil sample to figure out which amendments you’ll need to make once those starts are ready to go in the ground. Good soil is like a healthy diet – your plants need it to survive and thrive.

soil in cupIMG_0092IMG_0041Let us know what you plan to put up in 2015 by commenting on this post, and we will try to support you with specific recommendations throughout the year.

This post was inspired and adapted from Wayne McLaurin’s article, Spring Gardening: Getting Ready.

Do Those Sprouts Really Come from Brussels?

brussels on stemProbably not. Brussels sprouts may be grown in your very own home garden and still qualify as Brussels sprouts, though they are very popular and may have originated in Brussels, Belgium. Whether you actually have Brussels sprouts growing in your garden right now might depend on where you live and what the weather has been like this year, but as long as you have access to a grocery store with a healthy selection of seasonal vegetables, you can probably find some sprouts nearby. The best time to buy Brussels sprouts is between September and March. Brussels sprouts are notable not just for their unusual appearance, but also for their hardiness in cold weather. They are even said to be best when harvested after a couple of good freezes.

So it may not be surprising then that freezing Brussels Sprouts is a highly recommend method prepared brussels sproutsof preserving them. They will maintain best quality for up to 12 months in a 0°F freezer. To prepare them for freezing, select green, firm, and compact heads, removing any insects and course outer leaves. Wash well, then sort into small, medium, and large sizes if size variance is notable. Water blanch small heads for 3 minutes, medium heads for 4 minutes and large heads for 5 minutes. Cool them quickly in cold water or an ice bath, drain thoroughly, and package with no headspace. Then simply seal the containers and place in the freezer. To have properly proportioned serving sizes straight from the freezer and ready to be cooked, note that 5-6 sprouts equal one serving and/or one pound equals four servings.

If you’re feeling adventurous, then you might like also to try canning Pickled Brussels Sprouts. You may not have tried these before — the brine imparts flavor that is typical of many vegetable pickles while the texture is certainly more difficult to come by. Brussels Sprout pickles are made by boiling the clean sprouts in salt water (4 tsp canning salt per gallon), then cooling them while you prepare the brine that will be poured over the sprouts once they are in jars; the brine is a mixture of vinegar, sugar, onion, diced red pepper, mustard seed, celery seed, turmeric, and hot red pepper flakes. For the complete recipe, detailed instructions, and canning process time, see the recommendation in the link above. The same recipe and canning process is used for cauliflower too, so if you have some cauliflower flowerets around you could make both kinds (note that Brussels sprouts need to boil in the salt water for one minute longer than cauliflower).

Some of the information in this entry comes from Buying, Using, and Storing Vegetables from the University of Georgia.

The Heat Is On

fresh herbsDo you have the heat on in your house to stay warm this time of year? If you do, then make the most of that dry air and dry some herbs at home!

All it really takes to dry most herbs is to expose the leaves or flowers to warm, dry air. Gently flowing air and good ventilation will help pull moisture away from the herbs as it evaporates. If you have an accessible heat vent, then near the vent and moving air may be an excellent location to hang or place herbs to dry them — as long as the plants are not actually touching the vent, in order to prevent a fire hazard. You also want to protect the herbs from dust or contaminants coming out of the vents; see below.

There are two categories to apply to herbs for drying purposes: less tender herbs and tender-leaf herbs.

Less tender herbs include rosemary, sage, thyme, summer savory and parsley. These are easy to dry by simply tying them into small bundles and hanging them.

Drying herbs

Tender-leaf herbs such as basil, oregano, tarragon, lemon balm, and mint contain more moisture, so they need to be dried quickly or else they could mold. Their leaves and seeds may also fall off the stems, so try hanging these herbs in paper bags to so that they are caught before falling to the ground. Tear or punch holes in the side of a bag then secure a small bunch of herbs inside the bag with a rubber band. For the herbs to dry quickly, hang the bag where an air current will pass through it.

Leaves are dry when they are crispy and crumble easily when handled. Dried leaves can be left whole or crumbled. Place the dried herbs in airtight containers and store them in a cool, dry, dark area to protect their color and fragrance.

Remember that dried herbs are about three to four times stronger in flavor than fresh herbs, so if you are substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs in a recipe then use ¼ to 1/3 of the amount listed.

Read Drying Herbs for more information about drying herbs using a dehydrator and an oven.

Illustration of herbs drying in paper bag is from “So Easy to Preserve”, 6th ed. 2014. Bulletin 989, (c) Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia, Athens. Revised by Elizabeth L. Andress. Ph.D. and Judy A. Harrison, Ph.D., Extension Foods Specialists.