Harvard Beets: Out of the dirt into the Pressure Cooker

Harvard beets are a vintage recipe quite popular for good reason in all the guild, church and society cookbooks: tasty, simple and flexible. Many of you know I have a love of vintage cookbooks but today I share with you a quick updated version using your pressure cooker; taking the stovetop simmer from at least 40 minutes to 20 minutes.  These sweet, tangy and spicy beets make an excellent side dish to share, addition to a salad or a dish to put away in the freezer  (or can)for a later date.  What makes them Harvard? Legend is murky but it could be the crimson color or their New England popularity or some say they were ‘invented’ in a long-ago English tavern named Harwood.  The number of legends is about equal to the number of recipe variations.  I was lucky to have some overwintered beets that I just harvested for this batch (motley looking beet crew).


Harvard Beets 


  • 3 pounds of beets; I don’t get hung up on size.
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons jam; a citrus marmalade works great; I used fig jam!
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • Optional: pinch of cinnamon or clove
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch (ok to omit this if you prefer)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt  (maybe omit if using salted butter)
  • 2 cups of water


  • Wash the beets well and trim off the tops. Save them to braise, sauté or make into ‘chips’.
  • Place the beets and 2 cups of water in the pressure cooker. Cook at 15 psi for 20 minutes if using stovetop or if using electric pot – high pressure (~ 11psi) for 30 minutes.


  • When done cooking you can use the quick release method to get ready for next step.
  • When safe to open the pot, go ahead and remove the beets. You need to rinse and drain the beets with cool water. This will help them cool down as well. Do NOT toss the water from the pressure cooker!
  • Once cool remove the skins. They should almost slip right off, but you might need to use a paring knife.


  • To the pressure cooker pot full of beet juice, add the vinegar. Turn the heat back on until it starts simmering. Once simmering, add the jam, cornstarch, butter and salt. Whisk it up! It should start to thicken up. At this point, you are almost done.
  • Put the beets in a serving dish, pour in the liquid. Taste and add additional salt, sweet or maybe pepper to your taste preference.


  • I love to serve with goat cheese or on top of a salad.
  • Don’t forget beets stain everything. You can actually tie-dye with them but that is likely not your goal today, so be careful. I wore gloves to peel to save the washing and scrubbing of my hands later.
  • Some recipes call for canned beets. Just don’t. Support a farmer or gardner.
  • If you want to take it until step further you can also can/preserve harvard beets, omit the cornstarch (you would add that in when serving). Here is a recipe for guidance http://pickyourown.org/pickledbeets.htm.
  • Fortunately, the pressure cooker isn’t required you could simmer the beets in the water on the stovetop for 40 minutes or so, and go from there in the recipe. I will say that they are just fine served right way but the flavors mellowed and merged after a day in fridge.
  • This recipe can easily be adjusted based on the amount of beets you have. Just be sure there is enough liquid for your pot.


IMG_9235IMG_9236Recipe adapted from Weinstein’s Great Big Pressure Cooker Book. One of my faves.

What is your favorite version of Harvard or Pickled Beets?

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