Pickled Beets

Since the beginning of June I have been volunteering at the Marblehead Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning.  Having grown up among corn fields, dairy farms, and sprawling vegetable gardens in rural Pennsylvania I have an affinity for people who live close to the land.  I’ve enjoying getting to know the farmers and when I buy my produce, it is nice to know whose labor I am supporting.

Every year my wife and I look forward to the arrival of fresh beets to the farmer’s market.  We will typically make several batches of beet salad throughout the summer, but when the market closes at the end of the season we typically don’t buy beets again until the following summer.  This year, I decided to pickle some to enjoy throughout the year.  A couple weeks ago, I bought several bunches of beets from Bear Hill Farm, located in Tyngsboro, MA.  The farm has been in the same family since 1917.  The beets were handed to me directly by the man who grew them, and my money went directly into his hand. It doesn’t get much more simple and direct than that.

The recipe I used came from Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrick with one minor alteration–I halved the amount of sugar.  Here was the process for those of you following along at home.  It of course starts with the beets.  After trimming off the greens (reserved for other use, beet greens are good braised) I scrubbed them down–about 7 pounds of beets all told.



We then boiled the beets for about 15 – 20 minutes, after which we plunged them into the sink filled with cold water.


We trimmed off the ends and removed the skins–I used a paring knife and scraped them while my wife and daughter found that the skins were pretty easy to rub off using a damp paper towel.


I used a mandolin to get a consistent 1/4 to 3/8 inch thickness while slicing.  The larger beets I first halved and then sliced.  While prepping the beets, I also had the pickling solution simmering on the stove.  Cider vinegar, water, salt, and sugar (I halved the amount in the original recipe) as well as cinnamon stick, whole cloves,  and allspice berries tied in a cheesecloth pouch and steeped in the simmering liquid for 10 minutes.


While the liquid simmered we packed the sanitized pint Mason jars with the beets.


After the jars were packed we added the hot pickling liquid (after removing the spice pouch) leaving about 1/2 inch of head space.


We affixed the sanitized lids and rings and processed the jar in a boiling water-bath for 30 minutes.


The lids all sealed properly so I moved the jars to the basement.  A week later we opened one to test them out–I am very happy with the results, and I am very glad we decided to halve the amount of sugar originally called for in the recipe.  In future batches we may increase the amount of vinegar and reduce the water content to balance the sweet and sour flavors a bit more.


Ingredient list:

7 Pounds beets

2 Cinnamon sticks, broken

1 Tablespoon allspice berries

1 Teaspoon whole cloves

1 cup sugar (we used 1/2 cup)

1 cup brown sugar (we used 1/2 cup)

2 teaspoons pickling salt or pure Kosher salt (non-iodized and free of any additives such as anti-clumping compounds)

4 cups cider vinegar

2 cups water

Made about 7 Pints

I ♥ Vacuum Tubes

If you haven’t yet surmised, I have a strained relationship with modern technology but a deep love of “old” technologies: steam engines, hand tools, farm equipment, and old mechanical labor saving devices.  In a later post I may discuss why I love these things so much; it has to do with what they demand of us and that their use maintains the relationship between means and ends.  My preoccupation will all things old and mechanical has become a running joke with my family, friends, and students.  My wife and daughter like to describe me as “old-timey.”


I will say that I am not entirely anti-technology. It has its place and I am the first to recognize the wonders of modern medicine, and I certainly recognize the role of white privilege in pining for “the good old days,” and the political ramifications of our whitewashed nostalgia.  Really it is just that I personally enjoy old technology and that I don’t naturally assume that newer is always better.  I hate how disposable things have become.  When I look around at the technological devices in my home I wonder how many will be around in 3 years or 5 years let alone 50 or 80.  I like things that are built to last and made to be repaired.  Anyway, that’s a topic for another time.

Among the many pre-digital revolution artifacts that I enjoy are old radios, specifically those produced prior to the advent of the transistor.  I love tube based radios for their aesthetics, their sound, and their historical significance.  I have restored two of them now.  The first is an RCA 5T-8, probably produced around 1937 or 1938.  The second is a Troy Radio and Television Model 53 made in 1936 or 1937.



Digital music is cold, but when you push it through vacuum tubes it brings out the warmth.  I guess that is why high end audio equipment still use vacuum tubes.  For me, these save digital music– when I play digital music through them (I’ll explain how in a bit), the music feels more alive, more intimate, more organic.

There is also the history, and history is usually the reason I want to restore something old and put it to use again.  By the 1930s, smaller tabletop radios like mine were becoming affordable for more and more families, even during hard economic times. Between 1933 and 1944 F.D.R used the medium of radio to reach the American people and calm their worries about the Great Depression and the Second World War.  These radio addresses became known as the  “fireside chats.”  When I look at and listen to these radios I like to think about families gathered together to hear the president or catch up on the news from Europe.  Perhaps they found some diversion from the profound worries of the day in The Shadow or Abbot and Costello or Glenn Miller and His Orchestra live from Café Rouge at the Hotel Pennsylvania.  How much simpler–and how much more worrisome and complex–their lives must have been.  When I turn on these radios today in 2017, those folks gather around me.

They are also beautiful. I love the Art Deco detail on the dial on the Troy Model 53.




And I especially love the warm glow the tubes emit



When I bought these from a local thrift shop they were in decent condition, but they are old and required a thorough restoration inside and out.  Because of my woodworking hobby, I had no problem bringing the wooden cases back to life.  I repaired chipped or de-laminating veneers, damaged finishes, and a few splits here and there.  All in all nothing too intense; just enough to revive the beauty of the wood.

The guts were a different matter, and I am the first to admit that I do not have the expertise to rebuild the electronics–even 80 year old technology.  So, I sent them off to Allen Chiang, the proprietor of Retro Radio Farm.  Mr. Chaing is an electrical engineer by trade and spends his spare time as a radio restorer/savior.  He does amazing work.  He replaced all the frayed wires with period appropriate fabric insulated wires, replaced the filter capacitors, and tested and (where appropriate) replaced the vacuum tubes.    Learn more about him here.  the other thing he did was add a switch and auxiliary input to the radios (neatly hidden in the back) to allow me to play my iPhone through them.


All that for a couple hundred bucks!  He does fantastic work and I cannot recommend him highly enough.  If you have a mid century house and need a radio, he’s got some great ones for sale. I prefer the older wooden ones.  Currently I am on the prowl for an old “tombstone” style radio in unrestored condition.  In the meantime, I will continue to listen to my old RCA and Troy and think about the folks a few generations ago who sat around these beautiful little creations that brought the world into their living rooms.  Take it away, Ms. Whiting…