My Nans Perfect Pickled Onions

As anyone who has read my blog will know my nan and I were very close. Our birthdays were only 2 days apart and we talked every week. We had a great relationship even though I didn’t get to see her as often as I probably should have!!

For many years my nan made pickled onions every Christmas and we all adored them. When she passed, just after the Dazzler and I got married, I wanted something to remember her by every year, and felt this was a natural way for me to do something for my family that would make us feel a little closer to her during the festive season.

My nan used Sarson’s pickling vinegar (her secret ingredient was to add some sugar to the jars when she made it).. I couldn’t find pickling vinegar the first year I did them so made my own – and that tradition has stuck. It took me a couple of years to get the recipe right – but now these really do remind me of the wonderful spicy sweet pickled onions I knew and loved from growing up.

The process itself isn’t difficult but equally it isn’t a one day job. Prepping them is best tackled over a weekend as there are several stages involving lots of steeping and brining but believe me these will be worth it. These also take at least 6 weeks to pickle properly so with just under 6 weeks to the big day Ive just got enough time to get these done.

Day one – 2 jobs

Make your pickling vinegar…

For this you will need a bain-marie with a lid so that you can heat up your vinegar and steep your spices in it.

For 2 litres of vinegar you will need…

  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Tsp cloves
  • Tsp mace
  • Tsp Mustard seeds
  • Tsp whole allspice berries
  • 12 peppercorns (white are best)
  • 2tbs Brown sugar

Simply warm the vinegar in the bain-marie (saucepan with a glass bowl over simmering water will be fine). When its steaming slightly add in your ingredients – give it a stir, turn off the heat, pop on the lid then leave – preferably overnight.

When its done its up to you whether you keep the spices in the vinegar or strain them out. I like to add some to each jar as it give a rustic feel and a slightly more intense vinegar.

A word of warning – when you are heating your vinegar have a window or door open as warming vinegar apparently absorbs oxygen from the air (Who knew!!)

Peel and brine your onions..

Peel your onions – I use shallots but you can get mini onions from most supermarkets but I just feel like shallots give a much sweeter pickled onion.  Now there is no easy way to do this. I use rubber gloves, keep the window open (or if the day is sunny then ill do this outside) and peel away. I always peel in a bowl of water with a REALLY sharp knife. The quicker you can get this done the less tears there will be.

When your onions are all peels pop these in a bowl, sprinkle with 4 tbs of salt and cover with water. give a good stir, cover (prevents more tears) and leave overnight to brine.

Day Two  – 3 much easier jobs

Sterilise your jars

You need jars with a good seal – i used to collect Dowe Egberts coffee jars throughout the year as these work wonders but I later found a job lot of Kilner jars at a car boot sale which have served me well since then. I sterilize in a dishwasher but if thats not available rinse with hot water then pop in the oven for 10 mins on a low heat to sterilise effectively.

Rinse and dry your onions 

Strain your onions through a colander then leave these to drip dry for a bit. Pat dry any that are still damp with kitchen roll, using gloves to stop you getting onion fingers and to keep things sterile.

Transfer to your jars

Using a slotted spoon transfer your onions to the sterilized jars. (avoid touching them to keep things sterile) then top up with your spiced vinegar. Seal and store for 6 weeks minimum before eating.

And there you have it – perfect pickled onions that will last for ages. These are amazing with really strong cheese or gammon which make these a perfect Christmas treat. They are equally as good with fish & chips and I personally love onion vinegar over chips.

Post script

I know I’ve banged on about the whole sterile thing here but I am tucking into onions that I made 2 years ago (they are even better now, see below) precisely because I did the whole sterilzing thing. You don’t need to be as fastidious but do remember this will shorten the lifespan of your pickles considerably.



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