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Homemade -& Grown- Pickled Onions

16th August 2018

If you’ve come to this post hoping for a great pickled onion recipe, I can only apologise. I don’t think this is one that will be handed down through the generations of our family. And I’m side-eying my radioactive looking pickled onions in the cupboard, wondering if they’ll even be edible come Christmas. It’s more a tale of endurance, of inflated expectations thanks to Pinterest. And something to show for my months of work, given the pickled onions look highly suspect.

In the deepest darkest depths of postnatal depression, I found myself confronted with Christmas. Normally one of the things I look forward to most, but now a massive inconvenient day I’d have done anything to avoid. Our families made it as good as they could for me and the baby was completely oblivious; Sleeping through most of the day and throwing up on the little festive red dress I put her in. There will be other Christmasses for us. Better ones where I am my normal, extra, seasonally obsessed self. But it’s hard not to feel a bit gutted that my favourite day had to land at that time.

I was treated to some lovely gifts and despite everything going on, do have some fond memories of it. Once all the traditional stuff was out of the way, we watched The League Of Gentlemen all night and I remember the relief laughter bought. And coming across some homemade pickled onions which I ate with copious amounts of cheese and crackers, the first time I had felt an appetite in weeks.

Deciding To Make My Own

It was the kind of thing that under normal circumstances would have irritated my Mum. A nod to the teenage years, finding something clearly intended to be shared and scoffing the lot. A family friend had given them as a gift. Homemade pickled onions, he had grown on his allotment. And they tasted a thousand times better than the shop bought ones.

As I demolished the remainder of the jar, I found myself looking forward with some degree of optimism. There would be a time where this was all a distant memory, where Winter was over and I’d be happy again. I decided then that as soon as Spring rolled around, I would grow my own onions and make a jar for the following Christmas.

Thankfully by the time Spring did arrive, things were better. And whilst I did endeavour to do some pickling, I soon realised that I’m not Nigella. And that pickling things is a lot more faff than I first imagined. I’m not sure this is what they meant when they said ‘a depressed brain is not to be trusted’ but I’m glad to be back to my half arsed, lazy self. The new and improved version, who is a proud owner of 1 jar of -I’m pretty sure, incorrectly- picked onions. 

Growing My Own Onions

I’ve got so into gardening this year, I’m 30 going on 80. But I genuinely get so much joy from it. Growing stuff we can eat is even better and I was excited to try growing onions, given I use them for almost every meal.

I bought a bag of bulbs from the garden centre, which looked suspiciously onion like. And I have to admit something about that felt really silly. Buy an onion, put it in the ground … Get a new onion? I wanted onion seeds, to be inundated with onions, AN ONION TREE. But reluctantly I planted my onion bulb-things into pots and patiently waited.

Then the heatwave struck, meaning they became just another thing to keep frantically watered. Our perseverance paid off and the onion plants sprouted, long green leaves which grew upwards and dangled down around the pots. A quick google informed me that when the onions were ready they would stick up out of the soil. So I checked them every few days, until I noticed visible onion emerging from the soil.

Onion Harvest

To avoid the heat we’ve taken to gardening in the evening, once the baby has gone to bed and the sun has gone down. Since planting a raised bed in the middle of our garden with lots of flowers, our garden has got very buggy and that has in turn attracted pipistrelle bats. I love bats and so sitting on our patio and watching them swoop down onto the lawn has been amazing. They move so fast it’s hard to tell how many are around and at times they come so close you can hear their wings frantically flapping.

I excitedly gathered up my harvested onions, whilst the bats swooped around me. Although what I failed to take into account about being amongst all the plants whilst the bats were out, were the insect bites. We were covered from head to toe in bites from satanic flying things and destined to spend the next week itching and complaining. 

Curing The Onions

Despite having seen braided onions hanging up, I hadn’t really questioned why. I just figured it was something people did to store onions, but it turns out it’s an important part of the process. A boring part of the process I had not taken into account.

The euphoria at having managed to grow some onions was short lived, when I realised I had become a mosquito mass blood donor and now needed to store said onions for TWO WEEKS whilst they cured. 

I can’t French braid my own hair, so I can assure you I wasn’t about to attempt it with my onions. After a few days of them kicking about in the kitchen, getting in the way constantly, I decided to skip the curing bit all-together. As far as I could tell, as I was pickling them it wouldn’t matter. The curing process is more for storage. But don’t quote me on that, if you can’t tell already I’m not a pickled onion expert, just an impatient connoisseur. 

Pickled onions in a kilner jar

Making My Pickled Onions

In retrospect I wish I had made my own spiced vinegar, but the draw of pre-spiced pickling vinegar was too hard to refuse. Especially when the whole ordeal had been such a faff already. I wanted those onions off my worktops and in a Kilner jar ASAP. So I picked up some of Sarson’s Ready Spiced Pickling vinegar and used that.

Prior to adding the vinegar, I removed the storks / roots and poured boiling water over the onions to help remove the outer skins. I then covered the onions in Himalayan pink rock salt and kept in the fridge for 48 hours. Once that was done, I added to a sterilised Kilner jar and covered with the pickling vinegar.

Into the cupboard they went, to pickle for 6 months whilst I gave myself a pat on the back.

Neon Yellow Dots

Some weeks later, whilst rummaging around in my cupboard I came across my pickled creation. I gave the jar a shake as all the sediment was at the bottom and examined them. To my horror, my pickled onions were now adorned with neon yellow dots. Had they succumbed to some sort of pickling disease? Is this because I didn’t cure them properly?

Searching online it seems I’m not alone in this, it’s something that happens a lot and is down to a chemical reaction. One forum poster referred to it as ‘part of their charm’, but I can’t say I’m thrilled. I’m a fussy eater at the best of times and have to admit they don’t look particularly appetising now. After-all, the magical pickled onions of Christmas 2017 didn’t have neon yellow spots. 

I’m hoping the spots will magically disappear, or that they only affect the top layer. Either way, I’ll be eating them out of principal. I haven’t spent all this time faffing about watering onions, sort of curing them and sterilising jars for nothing. 

Recipie

I’m not going to insult food bloggers and chefs by listing a recipe with this post. If you want to know how to make pickled onions, I’d suggest following a recipe elsewhere. As ‘let them sit in salt for a day then chuck them in pre-made spiced pickling vinegar’ doesn’t really warrant one of those neat little ‘method’ tables with the step by step instructions. 

This wasn’t my most successful gardening / cooking endeavour. But I’m glad I did something I promised myself I would do. As they say: Nothing ventured, nothing pickled.