In a Pickle

Yes, Yes, it’s a cliched title. I never claimed to be original.

My Mother decided that pickled onions were in order the other day. “I thought I’d make some” she declared. “Home made ones make good Christmas presents”. Since it was Sunday and our local market garden was closed, she toddled off to Tesco to purchase the onions. Now, Tesco is a very useful store but it doesn’t always deal in specialities. The nearest thing she could get to a pickling onion was shallots at £1 for a 300g bag. I already had all the vinegar and spices that I needed but that didn’t stop Mum buying a rather large  jar of Sarsons ‘ready spiced’ pickling vinegar. She brought everything back to my place and then the usual chaos of Sunday night took over. Dinner was cooked and eaten, children were bathed and put to bed, washing up was done and packed lunches prepared. Of course, the shallots and vinegar were put to one side and Mum went home without them, secretly hoping I would peel and brine them ready for the next day. It was wishful thinking on her part for that had also been the day when I measured out the ingredients for the fruit cake.

Monday came and Mum was back on her onion mission with me tagging along. We decided to try and get some more onions of the proper pickling kind. The market garden was still shut but we found a nice little fruit and veg shop that had a good supply. This time I think I paid about £1.60 for 1.2kg, about a third of the price of Tesco. Back at my place, we got going on with the peeling process.

I got out my trusty copy of River Cottage Preserves, knowing its pickled onion recipe also had an optional shallot version. It suggests getting the skins off by first snipping off the top and bottom of the onions with scissors, pouring boiling water over them and counting ‘evenly’ to twenty and then plunging them into cold water. I had to hold Mum back as she was already busy attacking the onions with a knife. “Try it like the book says” I suggested. I suspect Mum slightly rolled her eyes. We differ a great deal in our approach to instructions: I like them, she does her own thing. However, she indulged me and did agree that the skins came of quite easily.

As we peeled the onions we started  reminiscing about when our other Aunty Betty (not my Grandmas sister who I mentioned in the fruit cake post, but her sister-in-law) used to join in with pickled onion making. No one seems to quite know how Aunty Betty (I’ll call her Betty Mac because that’s how she was referred to in the family, to distinguish between the two Aunty Bettys) came to be associated with peeling onions but she always got called in if there was a pickling project on the go. We all seem to remember her working away wearing diving goggles to try to stop the onion fumes making her cry. It was quite a comical sight, let me tell you. Fortunately for us, the River Cottage peeling method seemed to reduce the fume effect and neither of us was particularly teary.

Look at those colours. Beautiful. Mother Nature never gets it wrong.

Once the onions were all peeled and covered in salt I prepared the vinegar. Again, Mum and I differ here. She likes her ready made Sarsons vinegar. I like the extra depth of flavour that comes with spicing your own vinegar. I’ve made the River Cottage version a few times and it suits me. I like a bit of sugar in (I used half the amount stated in the recipe) and I use a few chilli flakes in standard onions. This was the first time I’d done shallots. There wasn’t much difference in the recipe except it suggested using half red wine and half white wine vinegar and adding a mint leaf at the end. Alas, I couldn’t get hold of mint. I’m afraid I got a bit carried away with the macro setting of my camera while I was getting the spices ready:

A macro lens can reveal a lot! It certainly makes you appreciate the beauty of everyday things. Logos on food containers are so iconic. No wonder Andy Warhol found them interesting. Anyway, I digress. Here are a few pictures of the end results:

The pot covers were made by my Mum on her fancy sewing machine. Don’t they look pretty? Hopefully they will make a nice little Christmas gift for somebody. I suspect my children’s teachers may be getting a jar to liven up their Boxing Day spread. Happy Pickling!