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Irish/British Pickled Onions

In the British Isles, pickled onions are practically a national treasure. There are hundreds of commercial varieties, and they are served with everything from fish and chips to meat pies. Here in the American South, we might more commonly serve them as a side to go with greens and cornbread, or as a replacement for the olive in a martini (technically, with the onion it’s a Gibson!). Onions are simple to pickle, and this recipe lends itself to a lot of variation, so consider the spices listed as just suggestions, but they’re a good place to start if you haven’t made pickles before. Then try malt vinegar, wine vinegar, or cider vinegar. Add chilies and garlic, or change to a Southeast Asian flavor by spicing them with coriander, lime, and ginger.

Source: There is really no one recipe -- the secret is in knowing the technique -- but this is generally similar to one in the Ball Blue Book from about 1963. (Entered by Janice Matthews)
Serves: variable-- 4 qts. of tiny pickling onions generally weighs about 3 lb. and will make about 7 pints

4 quarts pickling onions      View Available Products
1 cup salt (don't panic -- you'll rinse it off!)
2 cups sugar (or less)
4 T. mustard seeds
2 1/2 T. prepared horseradish
2 quarts white vinegar
about 7 small hot red peppers (1 per jar)
about 7 bay leaves (1 per jar)

Step by Step Instructions
  1. Wash and trim the onions as necessary. If they seem to need peeling, don't try to do it raw. Instead, drop them in boiling water, leave them to cool (or drain and dip in cold water), and the skins will just rub away.
  2. Sprinkle the salt over the peeled onions, stir, and leave overnight (up to 18 hours is fine) in the refrigerator. (This draws out the juices so the pickles will be crunchier.)
  3. The next day, rinse the onions very(!) thoroughly to remove the salt. Dry them with a towel, and pack them into clean, sterilized jars. Put a hot pepper and a bay leaf in each jar.
  4. Place the spices, vinegar, and sugar into a large stainless steel pan and heat while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Then pour the boiling hot pickling liquid over the onions, leaving just 1/4 inch of head space in the jar.
  5. Seal the jars, and either leave them to cool and subsequently store them in the refrigerator (good way for a small batch), or process them for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath by established home canning procedures and then store them in the pantry.
  6. The pickled onions will be ready to eat after the flavors have mellowed together for about one month. They are even better after 2 months or more. Once opened, store in a refrigerator.


Comments added by fellow market members.


I'm doing up a batch of these today, and just thought I'd see how this photo uploads. (It's not original with me, but if it works, later I'll try to use my own instead.)

Two additional thoughts. (1) In any pickle recipe, the amount of liquid needed to cover the produce will vary from batch to batch; usually recipes err on the side of having you make too much. For this reason, I always start by making up less (1/2 to 3/4 of the recipe) than the full amount, figuring I can make a partial or full second batch once I see how it's going. (If you need just a teensy amount more to fill the last jar, you can usually top it up with straight vinegar without being able to tell the difference.) (2) Although it wastes just a slight bit more of the onion, there's an easier way than trimming the onion roots and later rubbing off the onion skins. Leaving the roots still on, boil them for a minute as the recipe says, then lift them out with a slotted spoon and drop them in cold water. Pick up an onion, holding the bulb in one hand while you use your other hand to cut through the base to discard the root. Then squeeze smartly toward the small (top) end with your "holding hand." The onion bulb inside will pop out, leaving the outermost shell (skin) behind. If an onion is reluctant to do this, cut a bit off the top end, and repeat.