Pickled Onions

I do love a pickled onion, and not having had any for a while, decided to put to the test some of the old recipes from the Wellcome Insitute Library archives. The methods are a little different from modern recipes and I was curious to see the differences made to the final product, if any.

Some of the pickled onion recipes were too involved for my purposes (and lack of patience), with the brining going on for almost a week before any actual pickling was done. I chose these two recipes because they were both immediate and do-able in a morning, and I liked that they had slightly different aromatics as well as methods.

A lot of pickling recipes take weeks to mature, and originally I hadn’t planned to post these recipes for quite a while. However, after a taste test this morning, the results were so delicious after just 24 hours, here we are.

Pickled Onion manuscript recipe 1

This is the recipe from a manuscript (MS751) that belonged to one Elizabeth Sleigh, with later additions by a Mrs Felicia Whitfield. The manuscript has been dated to from the middle of the seventeenth century (1647) to the early 18th century (1722). The method involves blanching the peeled onions briefly in two changes of salted water, simmering the pickle with some aromatics and combining the two when both are cold.

This recipe is from MS2323, originally owned by Amy Eyton and subsequenty by Mary Eyton and possibly even Mrs Sarah Justice. With a similar date (1691-1738), it is interesting how closely the recipes resemble one another in terms of method. This later recipe calls for initially soaking the peeled onions in two lots of brine, blanching in brine and then cooling in cold brine, and drying. The vinegar and aromatics are simmered for a while, then poured over the onions.

The results for both are deliciously similar: the onions have crunch and tang from the vinegar, but none of the harshness of raw onion nor eye-squinting ‘burn’ that accompanies the use of malt vinegar. The aromatics give subtle flavouring to the vinegar, which I suspect might intensify as time passes. As already mentioned, and by far the best part of this whole experiment, is they can be consumed almost immediately.

Elizabeth Sleigh’s Pickled Onions

1647-1722

I didn’t think I had any black peppercorns, so I used long peppercorns that were in the cupboard.

500-750g small/pickling/baby onions
9tbs table salt (divided)
800ml white wine vinegar
1tbs allspice berries
1tbs black peppercorns
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
4 blades of mace

clean jar(s)

  • Make a brine with 2 litres of cold water and 4tbs salt.
  • Cut the tops and bottoms off the onions and peel off the brown skin
  • Bring the brine to the boil and drop in the peeled onions and cook for two minutes. Drain.
  • Mix a fresh batch of brine (2 litres water, 4tbs salt).
  • Bring the fresh brine to the boil and drop in the onions and cook for another two minutes. Drain.
  • Cut the ginger into thin slices.
  • Add the aromatics and salt to the vinegar and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Add the blanched onions and cook for 2 minutes
  • Turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to remove the onions from the vinegar and set to cool on a baking tray or wire rack. Return any of the flavourings to the pickle.
  • Cover the vinegar pan and allow to cool.
  • When both onions and vinegar are cold, transfer them to your jar(s) and cover. If you’re using more than one jar, make sure the aromatics are divided equally amongst them.
  • Wait 24 hours, then enjoy.

Amy Eyton’s Pickled Onions

1691-1738

This recipe called for alegar – vinegar made from ale – of which I obviously have none, so I used half cider vinegar, half white wine vinegar. Use whatever light vinegar combination you like/have. Oh, and I found the black peppercorns.

500-750g small/pickling/baby onions
15tbs table salt (divided)
400ml white wine vinegar
400ml cider vinegar
1tbs allspice berries
1tsp whole cloves
1tbs black peppercorns
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
the zest of a lemon, cut in strips
4 bayleaves

clean jar(s)

  • Make a brine with 2 litres of cold water and 4tbs salt.
  • Cut the tops and bottoms off the onions and peel off the brown skin. Drop the peeled onions into the brine.
  • Mix a fresh batch of brine (2 litres water, 4tbs salt).
  • Drain the onions, then add them to the fresh brine for 30 minutes.
  • Make a third brine (2 litres water, 2tbs salt) and bring to the boil.
  • Drain the onions, then add them to the simmering brine for 3 minutes.
  • Mix 2 litres of cold water and 4tbs salt.
  • Drain the onions and drop them into the cold brine for 15  minutes
  • Add the aromatics and 1tbs salt to the vinegars and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Drain the onions from the brine and dry with a clean cloth. Put the onions in your jar(s).
  • Turn off the heat under the pickle and allow to cool for five minutes,
  • Pour the pickle over your onions and seal. If you’re using more than one jar, make sure the aromatics are divided equally amongst them.
  • Wait 24 hours, then enjoy.