Pickled Onions

Where does time go?  I used to be young (and slim).  We used to measure in ounces and pounds and typewriters were all the go…

The impetus for making my own pickled onions was the realisation that the Australian brand onions we had been buying for years are now ‘made in’ India.  Not that I have anything against India – in fact, I love the place. I have been there several times … but what about the food miles?

The pickled onions were also much cheaper than we remember and, I mean, much cheaper.  This got my back up.  Why were they so cheap?  Was everyone in their production getting their fair share?  (I presumed Coles and Woolies were.)  Was the cost to the earth for all those food miles included?   I doubted it and vowed it was the last time I was buying pickled onions.

I have had this recipe, typewritten in pounds and ounces, in my recipe book for years.  Neither Maus nor I have any idea from where it came.  Next to the title is:  “Mrs Flutey, Bluff”.  I have no idea who Mrs Flutey is.  I looked up ‘Bluff’ – it is in New Zealand.  I am still none the wiser as to Mrs Flutey’s identity.

I made the recipe earlier in the year.  I thought it was a little weird so decided against doing a post on it.  At the time, I thought I would wait and see.  And wait I did.

Well, my friends, they taste very good; very good, indeed.

If you check out the label of your favourite brand of pickled onions and find they are ‘made in’ some far-flung place, try this recipe; you will not be sorry.  They are very sweet and spicy, just how pickled onions used to be.

The recipe is in pounds and ounces, with grams in brackets.  Clearly, the recipe was first formulated in ounces and pounds.  The  metric is an absolute conversion so the quantities are a bit strange.  Use the imperial measurements if you can, otherwise, use an estimate of the metric conversion.

  • 5 lbs (2.27 kg) onions
  •  ½ cup salt
  • 1 quart (1.14 litres) boiling water
  • 2½ lbs (1.14kg) sugar
  • 1 quart (1.14 litres) vinegar
  • ½ oz (14g) ground cloves
  • 2½ tbs* plain flour
  • ½ oz (14g) mixed spice
  • 1 tsp mustard (I presumed this was dry ground mustard.)
  • 1 tbs* curry powder
  • 2 tsp turmeric

*Assuming this recipe comes from NZ, these would be 15ml tablespoons.

  1. Peel the onions.
  2. Dissolve the salt in boiling water then allow to cool.
  3. Add the onions and set aside for 24 hours.
  4. Drain the onions.
  5. Put onions into sterilised jars.
  6. Mix all the dry ingredients to a smooth paste, with a little extra vinegar.
  7. Bring the vinegar and sugar to the boil.
  8. Add the paste to the vinegar and heat until the mixture thickens.
  9. When cooled, pour the mixture over the onions.
  10. Store for several months before using.

This is what they looked like when first made.

15 thoughts on “Pickled Onions

  1. Hi there – I’ve stumbled accross your blog via a couple of others, and am very happy about this!

    I have started getting into bottling/canning in a big way the past 2 years and enjoy it tremendously having different stuff on hand to eat or for gifts. The only bit that irritates me is the waterbath issue. I really don’t think it is essential in most cases, but when you read the American recipes, you would think we are all going to die.

    We live on a small farm just outside of Pretoria in South Africa and have started planting stuff especially for canning. I am sitting on a huge amount of small onions and elephant garlic that needs processing. I am going to do this onion recipe this weekend.

    Within the next 2 weeks, my tomatoes are also going to get to a stage where it might turn everything in my kitchen red. Happy days!

    • Hi Petro
      Thanks for visiting and bothering to make a comment. You will love the pickled onions. We have made this recipe several times this year. It is my favourite by far.
      We too are overwhelmed with tomatoes at the moment: both roma and cherry tomatoes. I have today pickled some cherry tomatoes, something I have never done before. I will do a post on it within the week. They look gorgeous.
      American recipes always require a water bath. Australian recipes don’t usually require it for pickles, relishes, chutneys, jams etc. The sugar, salt and vinegar act as the preserver. I have made chutneys that have lasted for years without processing them in boiling water.
      If you are preserving low acid vegetables, however, you must be very careful.

  2. I seem to remember when working in bars in london two of the food staples apart from the pork scratchings were the pickled eggs and the pickled onions you could have with the pint of bitter – look forward to trying this one

    • Hi Col
      Yes, I am sure the recipe’s origins are English. They taste like pickled onions used to. Give them a go, they don’t take long to make.

  3. Nice recipe Glenda. I’ve got big plans for home preserving this year – especially tomatoes. I can’t wait for those to come in.
    Absolutely adore your banner pic – best I’ve seen!

    • Hi Amanda – thanks for visiting. Sometimes you just see a ‘photo’ and know it will work. I have planted loads of tomatoes this year. I have high hopes for them too.

  4. Can I ask some more ‘dumb American’ questions? I hope so.

    I keep seeing you use those very commercial looking jars and lids – are they the kind commonly used for canning in Australia? In the U.S., we mostly use the two part lid and heavy jars known as ‘Mason’ type – my understanding is that this is because of safety reasons, and because many canned foods (pickles with lots of salt and vinegar being the exception) require a long, hot water bath, or processing in a pressure cooker. Can you reuse those lids?

    The other question is what kind of vinegar do you use for this one? I’ve never had pickled onions like these – over here, pickled onions are the tiny ones you drop into a martini – and they have a clear brine. I’ve also had the British version of pickled onions, but I remember them being in a clear brine also. So I’d like to try these, but I think I’ll start out with 1 pound of onions.

    • Hello Doc
      We also have Mason jars here and Fowlers Vacola jars (an Australian brand) for home preserving but they are very expensive and it is a load of bull* about having to use them. For jam, chutneys, relishes, etc, most people just use second hand jars and lids that come with the food they bought from the supermarket. Some will put cellophane between the lid and the produce but most don’t bother.

      People a bit more into preserving will use second-hand jars but new lids. You can buy the new lids and jars at the wholesalers who sell to food manufacturers. In Australia, they usually require you to spend at least $50.00 but that is very easy to do as they sell lots of interesting things.

      In theory, the second hand jars shouldn’t be used in hotwater baths or home pressure canners because they were manufactured for ‘one use only’ but people do it all the time. They are not as strong as the Mason jars which have been made especially for reuse but certainly strong enough. I have only pressure canned once – my chicken stock – and I used new jars because I was a bit nervous but I intend to reuse the jars now they are empty. Check out the quote below from the Q&A page on Green Living Australia

      Q: Are all jars the same?

      No. There are three types of common jars suitable for preserving.
      Twist Top jars, commonly found on the supermarket shelf full of food, buy the food, and get the jar for FREE.
      Screw Top jars, known in America as Mason Jars, are sold in supermarkets and specialty stores solely for the purpose of home preserving, and can be expensive.
      Fowlers Vacola jars, the traditional Australian preserving system, can be both difficult to get and expensive.
      There are also jars that are NOT suitable for home preserving, such as jars with plastic lids.

      Q: Is it safe to home preserve in a “Twist top” jar ?

      Yes. Valerie has been using 2nd hand “Twist Top” jars for home preserving for years (with new lids), for both “Boiling Water Bath” processing of high acid foods, and “Pressure Preserving” low acid foods in a pressure canner.
      Like all jars, you must inspect the jar for any damage, such as chips on the rim, or any cracks, and if you know your jar has received any hard knocks you may wish to not use it

      To your onion questions:

      This recipe would be (or based on) an old-fashioned English recipe. It is what pickled onions used to taste like when we were young. We can only buy the ones in plain vinegar with whole spices, too.
      We call the little ones you put in a martini – cocktail onions- they taste horrid – these are so much nicer.

      You would traditionally use malt vinegar. It is very common here. You can buy it in any supermarket but if you can’t get it, any vinegar would work.
      The onions are normal brown onions but little – about an inch or inch and a half max. Can you buy those? They are sold in Australia as ‘pickling onions’.
      Be careful as these are imperial measurements not US. You will have to convert the imperial or use the metric conversion.

      • Thank you much for your ‘complete’ answer! Wow. I’ve long suspected that we American caners have been frightened off by the food police – but then botulism is a little scary. At this point, I’ve got a huge collection of the mason jars, so it may be a mute question, but I still wonder.

        Yes, I will try the onion recipe – and No, the little onions are not easily found and bought in our markets – but I know how to grow them (if you want to grow the ‘cocktail’ size onion, simply allow the onion seed to sprout and grow very closely together – you’ll get hundreds of tiny bulbs out of a tiny garden space! For 1 inchers, just spread them out a bit more.).

        Thanks again for the good answer.

  5. Pickled onions have gone out of fashion with tinned beetroot but you have reminded me that they are worthwhile having on hand. I will leave the tinned beetroot. Roz

  6. It’s incredibly disappointing when you find out one of your ‘normal’ brands is suddenly making things in places that they really don’t need to. That little onion would have a lot of miles attached to it.
    I haven’t made pickled onions before but preserved anything and I’m in. I do like things lined up in my cupboard!

    • Hi Brydie- Do they really need to come all that way? I don’t think so. I think it is more about trying to stay on supermarket shelves. I am sure W & C have a policy that if a brand does not sell a certain amount then it is out. The way they encourage the brand’s failure is to have a home brand that is cheaper. Before you know it, people have switched to the home brand and the little guy is off the shelves.

  7. Hello Glenda from Brazil – Just having a small rest in our friends’ home, but will be rushing out soon to do some wedding things with Flavia the bride to be. We are being spoiled rotten and enjoying so many Brazilian delicacies! Weather warm and sunny. Sao Paulo from the air was mind-boggling and equally so on the ground….20Million people in one city! Would drive anyone Brazilian nutty!!!
    The pickled onions look great. Kept your blog on our iPad, so will be getting updates.
    Finally got the iPad working to perfection for when it is needed.
    Ciao from the travellers.
    F and A. XX

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