We had a wonderful visit with our family on the Gold Coast last Friday and once again I could hold my beautiful grandson, Jamie. The only downside is the trip there and back because the traffic is terrible. Still, it's worth it to see everyone, catch up on the news and see how Jamie is progressing.
There is no doubt in my mind - food and drinks made at home from scratch are far superior to what you buy at the shops. Not only are they tastier, fresher and healthier, they usually cost less for a better product. I spent some of my Sunday making a few odds and ends in the kitchen. We had been given a free box of apples and I wanted to do something with them; the first night I made an apple crumble. That still left over 300 apples, so I skinned and seeded a bowl full of them and made up a litre of apple juice. If it wasn't so labour intensive, I would have juiced them all but I had to de-seed the apples because there is a small amount of cyanide in the seeds, and these apples were commercial apples, waxed, so I had to peel them too. Still, the juice that resulted from that exercise was so good; Hanno and I had a chilled glass each with our roast pork for dinner. The leftover pomace has been bagged and frozen for future apple and fruit cakes.
I found some pickling onions at the store on Friday so I bought a kilo. While I was at Tricia's, we went out for lunch a few times and I had one of my favourites - Ploughman's Lunch - a mixed plate of sourdough, good tasty cheese, pickled onions, gherkins, ham sliced from the leg and a relish. One of those lunches had the most delicious pickled onions I'd had in a long time. Clearly they were not a commercial brand, and had probably been made by the chef. I think they were pickled in balsamic vinegar. They inspired me to make pickled onions, hopefully as good as those I had on my ploughman's plate. I really like having a jar of pickled onions in the fridge. They last a long time and they're a wonderful addition to a lunchtime sandwich or a snack plate.
This jar will sit for two months to let the vinegar and spices do their magic before we eat them.
There seems to be quite an interest here in preserving, so I thought this would be an excellent starting place for those of you who haven't done any preserving before, have no equipment, but would like to give it a go. All you will need for this, apart from the ingredients, is a litre | quart sized preserving jar, with a pop-top lid, in good condition, a saucepan large enough to boil it in (completely covered) and a smaller saucepan for the vinegar. The jar I used is one of those Italian preserving jars you can commonly buy in either a supermarket or department store here. Recycled jars are fine for this job - make sure they're undamaged and the lid is perfect. Wash the jar and lid in warm soapy water and rinse it well.
Let me say first that many of my American friends might be a bit concerned with these instructions. I'm not going to use a water bath or pressure canner, but these onions will be fine for about a year without that processing. It relies on high acid vinegar and sugar to keep the food safe; both of them stop micro-organisms surviving in the highly acidic, sugar liquid. This way of preserving is common in Australia and the UK and although your method of boiling everything is how you're advised to can food, this is the common way to put up pickled onions in the Commonwealth.
If you ever see this Melrose vinegar (or Braggs vinegar) in the shops, grab it. It will be more expensive than ordinary vinegar, but it contains "mother of vinegar" and with that you can make your own vinegar. Before you buy, lift all the bottles up to the light and buy the one with the most strands or blobs of stuff floating around. I know that sounds gross, but the "mother" floats around in the vinegar.
The taste of the end product will depend on the quality of the ingredients you use. Do NOT use your cleaning vinegar for this. I used the excellent Melrose unpasturised apple cider vinegar and Cornwall's Apple Cider Vinegar. I didn't have enough Melrose for this recipe because I wanted to keep the "mother" in the bottom of the bottle for making new vinegar. So I added a small amount of Cornwall's vinegar to make up the volume. Vinegar used for pickling must be at least 5% acid. Melrose is 8% and although Cornwall's never state on their label what level of acidity it is, they recommend it for pickling so it must be at least 5%.
PICKLED ONIONS - INGREDIENTS
1 kg | 2.2 pounds small pickling onions
50 grams | 2 oz rock, sea or lake salt
600 mls | one pint good vinegar - at least 5% acidity
3 tablespoons honey or sugar
2 teaspoons allspice berries
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 dried chillies
2 bay leaves
If you're in Australia and you can't find all the spices in the shop, use a packet of Menora pickling spice. I bought mine at IGA.
- Cut the top and bottom off the onions and place them in a bowl. Cover them in boiling water and leave for about a minute. Pour off the hot water and replace it with cold water.
- When the onions are cool, slip the skins off the onions. Dry the bowl, place the onions back in it, and sprinkle the salt over the onions. This will draw fluid form them. Leave this, covered, for 24 hours.
- The next day, boil your jar and lid in a saucepan. It must be completely covered. Bring to the boil, then let it boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave it in the hot water until you're ready to fill the jar, it must be hot when you add the hot vinegar.
- In a small saucepan, add the vinegar, sugar and all the spices and leaves. Bring to the boil, making sure the sugar has completely dissolved. Let it simmer for a two minutes while you prepare the jar and onions. If you want to taste the vinegar, now is the time to do it. To adjust the flavours, add more vinegar, sugar or spice. Remember that the flavours will develop a lot while it's in the jar and what might taste quite harsh now, will turn into a soft and mellow liquid in a couple of months.
- Wash the salt off the onions, then place the onions in a colander to drain.
- Now you have to take the jar from the water without burning yourself and without contaminating the inside of the jar and lid. With your jar tongs, take the jar from the water and place it on the bench, making sure all the water has drained out. If you have no jar tongs, pour the water out of the saucepan, pick up the jar on the outside with a tea towel and lift it out. Don't touch the inside of the jar, it must remain sterile. Same with the lid - you can touch the outside but not the inside.
- Pack the onions into the jar then pour the vinegar over the onions and fill it right to the top of the jar. The vinegar will still be very hot so be careful. Put the lid on the jar straightaway. The hot contents will help form a vacuum seal.
When the lid goes on, you'll notice the pop top button on the lid will be up. When the vacuum seal happens, that button will invert. That is your sign that it's sealed properly. When that happens, you can store the jar in your cupboard for up to a year. You want the vinegar mix to infuse the flavours into the onions, so let it stand for at least six weeks to mature before opening. When you open the jar, it must be stored in the fridge.
If the pop top on the jar doesn't invert, the onions are still okay to eat, but you'll have to store them in the fridge and eat them within three months.
Preserving food in jars, while not as popular as it once was, before so many of us got freezers in our homes, still holds relevance for those of us living this way. It's a useful skill to learn. You can put up several jars, or a whole pantry full, or you can do what I do and make small numbers of gourmet food jars that can be enjoyed for a fraction of the price you'd pay for the same quality in the shops.