Pickled onions were a staple in my husband’s home when he was growing up. He spent his middle school and high school years in England and pickled onions where a part of many meals in their home.
It did not take long before I heard stories from my English mother-in-law about how quickly the pickled onions would magically disappear out of their pantry with hungry teenage boys of course being the culprits.
I knew I had to try my hand at making these and in the beginning my in-laws would bring me back the spices I could use to make them with from England, but over time they stopped going back to England so I had to find a new source for the spices here in the US.
I also found it harder to find the malt vinegar in any type of quantity so I decided it was time to come up with my own recipe that I could do with ingredients I could get locally.
My version of these favorites uses a mix of vinegars, as malt vinegar can be very expensive and comes in small bottles. There are a few restaurant supply stores that carry malt vinegar in gallon containers so if you are lucky enough to have access to it, going with all malt vinegar is definitely the way to go. I did a mix of 1/2 malt vinegar and 1/2 white vinegar and the results came out almost as good as the originals.
The pickled onions themselves are easy to make, I used the small onions from my garden, the best size is about an inch in diameter but you can also use a bit larger, or if you are unable to find anything but boiler sized onions you can also cut them in half or quarters if you want. Shallots also work very well for this recipe if you have access to them.
Peel and clean the onions then place them in a large bowl. Add the salt and water; you want the water to cover the onions completely so add more water if the 4 cups is not quite enough.
Let the onions soak for at least 4 hours but up to 24 hours. I let mine soak for 4 to 6 hours for the best crispness.
While you are soaking your onions you will want to make your spiced vinegar, this is simply vinegar and pickling spices. I make mine when I am ready to pack the onions in jars and pour it over the onions while the mixture is still hot.
Give the onions a good rinse before packing them in quart jars. If the onions are small you should not have a problem packing them into 2 quart jars, but if the onions are bigger you will either want to cut some of the onions into halves or quarters or in my case I just added an extra pint jar.
If you come up a bit short on spiced vinegar simply add a bit more vinegar to the top of the jar to ensure the onions are completely covered.
I have water bath canned these before, but found that my husband likes them better not canned, the canning process made them a bit softer than what he was used to. If you have cool root cellar you can store them there, but if like me you have hot humid summers and no place cool to store things then you will be better offer either canning them or storing them in the fridge. I have two fridges so keeping them in the fridge works great for us.
- 3 lbs of shallots or small boiler onions
- ⅓ cup Canning or Kosher Salt
- 4 cups Water
- 4 cups Vinegar, either malt vinegar, white vinegar or a mix of the two
- 2½ tablespoons of mixed pickling spices
- Clean onion and place in a large bowl.
- Add ⅓ cup salt and 4 cups of water then let sit for 4 hours.
- Meanwhile make spiced vinegar by bringing to boil 4 cups of vinegar and the pickling spice.
- Drain and rinse onions then pack in quart jars, You can half or quarter onions to get a tighter pack if they are a bit too large.
- Pour hot spiced vinegar over onions and seal.
- You can store these onions in the fridge for up to 6 months or put them in a water bath canner for 20 minutes for longer storage. Storage in the fridge will result in a crisper onion.
- Onions are ready after 2 weeks, makes approximate two Quarts depending on the size of your onions.