My husband’s eyes nearly popped out of the sockets when he spotted them in the basket. “Oh my God, what are you doing with those?!”, he asked fully knowing the answer. “Was thinking of making pickled onions”, I said knowing that if we hadn’t already survived many years together, this would have sealed the deal. Mention pickled onions to any English person and watch what happens, especially if they are far away from England or at least a reliable source. Even funnier, ask an English person about pickled onion Monster Munch. I’m not going to tell you what that is. You have to find out for yourselves.
Pickled onions are as much a part of English culture as the Sunday roast or the Christmas pudding. The favoured way to eat them is in a ploughman’s lunch. A tradition best enjoyed in a sunny pub garden with a nice pint, the ploughman’s consists of a hunk of good bread, a chunk or two of nice cheese (especially sharp cheddar), possibly a bit of cold meat, a bit of salad, a spoonful of pickle such as Piccalilli or Branston and a big fat pickled onion. My husband is also partial to a sliced pickled onion and feta cheese sarnie (sandwich) which, I have to agree, is very nice indeed! Mind you, he’d also just eat them straight out of the jar with a fork if he thought he could get away with it. Being that it is getting towards the end of winter, these little guys should be ready in time for the sunny days of summer, but believe me, I will be hiding the bottles around the house so that I can introduce them slowly lest I end up with a pickled husband.
Traditional English Pickled Onions
2 kgs of pickling onions
2 litres of vinegar (I made one of malt vinegar, which is traditional and one of apple cider vinegar just to mix things up a bit)
about 8 teaspoons of pickling spices (coriander seeds, black peppercorns and mustard seeds are the usual but I also add a bay leafand a chili for each bottle)
340 g sugar
Peel the onions by topping and tailing them and pouring boiling water over them. Once the water cools down the skins slip off fairly easily.
Salt the onions and leave for a few hours or over night.
Then rinse the salt off the onions and let them dry while you heat up the vinegar and spices.
Gently heat the sugar, spices and vinegar until the sugar has dissolved. Do not boil.
Fit the onions into your sterilised bottles* and top up with the vinegar distributing the spices amongst each of the bottles.
Let the lids seal onto the bottles whilst they cool and then wait a couple of months before eating. The longer you wait the better they are and I’d suggest 4 months as a good amount of time if you can handle it.
* I’m using “bottle” here in the sense of “to bottle something”, ie. to preserve it in glass jars that have been sterilised for later eating. In American English this is known as “canning” and I’ve even heard Americans call glass bottles “cans” during this process, but I’m not sure if that is the regular word or if they usually just say “jar”.