Suddenly Sauer: Preserving Food and Tradition in a Modern World

roots in a brine, it’s springtime!
June 28, 2010, 3:39 pm
Filed under: food, Pickled Anything

Baby Root Veggies in a Brine

Spring has sprung and the summer solstice is truly upon us here in Detroit.  The weather here has fairly consistently been a couple degrees above sweltering and there has been some severe weather afoot, coupled with intense daytime humidity, and a lot of sweaty faces.  Why bother mentioning the weather in a blog post about root vegetables and fermentation?  Quite simply put, these baby veggies are my first pickles of the season made from garden produce (as opposed to store bought veggies).  And the things that made them possible, other than a broadfork, compost, the sweat of my brow, and some open space, was a lot of rain and some early season heat.  Yes there’s no looking back now, it’s growing season!

Part of my work with The Greening of Detroit is managing a 1/2 acre plot in a park in Southwest Detroit.  We (the other apprentices and myself) have an acre under cultivation, which  is split into two plots.  One half is used for nutrition education and the other is grown primarily for market, I manage the market half.  Mostly, I grow salad mix and other greens, but in a couple beds very near and dear to my heart, I am growing golden beets and chioggia beets.  These two beet varieties are stunning and delicious, golden beets being the most brilliant variation of bright orange yellows, and chioggias displaying concentric circles of magenta and white (think Target).

The other day I set about the task of thinning these lovelies, a task which involves pulling beets up so that there is only one beet every inch or so, giving the roots room to grow larger.  This process left me with no small number of baby beets, none more than a 1/2 in diameter, which needed a new purpose in life.


I decided to return to a brining method, since lately I’ve only been making “kraut-style” ferments.  This means, rather than salting a vegetable and allowing it to sweat out its own brine, you first mix up a salt water solution and then pour it over  your veggies.  still simple, just slightly different.

The first step in this process was cleaning all my baby beets.  It took forever, and as you can see in the photo below, I had to remove a lot of beet matter to get what I was looking for.  I didn’t want to remove the skins completely because they’re not only home to much of the veggie nutrients, they’re also the most brilliantly colored part.

The roots, stems, and leaves I cut away to be left with….

These beauties!

Once I’d trimmed, rinsed, and packed all my baby veggies into a 1/2 gallon jar, I mixed up a spice mix and a salt water brine.

My spice mixture was: 1 Tbs pickling spice, 1 cinnamon stick, about 10 cloves, and 5 cardamom pods.

Pickling spice being measured into a muslin spice bag (can be purchased from any brewing supply store)

Once I’d made my spice mix, I tied the muslin bag and packed it in with the jarred beets.  I tried to get it into the middle rather than just setting it on top to make sure the flavors infused throughout.

Roots packed with the spice bag (you can see it on the right hand side of the jar)

Once all the roots and spices were packed in, I mixed up a brine using the same ratio I use for cucumber pickles: 1.5 Tbs salt to 2 cups water for a 1 quart jar of pickles.  Since my jar is 2 quarts, I doubled this, first dissolving 3 Tbs salt in about 1/2 cup hot water, then adding the rest of the water cold and 1/4 cup whey to make 4 cups total brine.

I poured the brine over the pickles until the jar was full, stuck a pint jar full of water one top to keep the beets below the brine’s surface, covered this with cheesecloth and a rubberband, and then stuck it in my basement where it’s about 65-70 degrees.  The brine overflowed a bit as the roots began to break down and compress, allowing the pint jar to sink in further and displace the solution, but this has little effect on the effectiveness of the brine.

One week later, I uncovered my jar, removed the pint jar water weight, and tasted my baby root pickles!  They were crunchy and delicious, well seasoned and zingy.  Unfortunately, the magenta dye from the chioggias totally took over and died not only the white rings of the chioggia beets, but also muddied the golden beets and the turnips.  Now, instead of the brightly colored veggies I put in the brine a week ago, I have a jar full of delicious root vegetables that are a slightly unappetizing shade of mauve.  yuk.

My future plans:  to repeat this whole process making one jar of just golden beets (in hopes that they retain their brightness) and one jar of dark red beets (cultivating that rich red color).  I’d also do some turnips with the goldens or the reds, or separately.  Their spicy undertones were a nice thing to discover amongst the sweet beets.  The flavor and crunch was a total success, but the color and overall appearance of the veggies definitely needs work.