Grandad’s Pickled Onions

14 Jul

My grandad is 92. He still grows most of his own veg in his back garden and his front garden is always full of flowers. I remember when I was little we used to go round at the weekend and he would take me outside to show me the vegetables.  When I was little the only vegetable I would eat was sweetcorn. I remember him picking the fresh corn cob off the plant and giving to me to eat raw. I can still taste it now. It was the sweetest sweetcorn I’ve ever tasted.

He also had pheasants & partridges hanging from the ceiling of the garden shed that you had to walk under to use the ouside toilet. Not so nice.

My grandad has 9 children, my dad being one of them, as well as 14 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren and 1 great, great grandchild. When I was younger the whole family would descend on my grandparents every Boxing Day. The kids would open all their presents and play together and the parents would eat, drink and get drunk, generally.

One of the best things about Boxing Day at Nan & Grandad’s was the buffet. The table in the back room was filled with cold roast meats leftover from Christmas Day as well as the obligatory sausage rolls, chicken drumsticks and the cheese board. Next to the cheeseboard there was always a big jar of grandad’s homemade pickled onions.

When I was younger I remember being  terrified of these pickled onions. I could see the whole red chillies floating around in the jar. That and the fact that the adults would dare each other to eat them and laugh when someone started coughing and going red in the face, stopped me from going near them until I was much older. Probably about 16.

Once I tried one there was no going back. They are fiery (depending on how long they’ve been left to mature) but also totally addictive. Just make sure you’re amongst family when you eat them. I wouldn’t eat them before a hot date or job interview. Not a good idea.

When we first moved to Spain ten years ago and opened the restaurant, my grandad came to visit with my uncle David. As usual, they asked if there was anything we needed from England, thinking we’d say Marmite or tea bags. I asked him to bring some of his pickled onions, half joking.  And he did.

Can you imagine the look on the faces of the security at the airport? This was in the days before the 100 ml liquids rule obviously. I was very pleased, as you can imagine.

 One of our very good customers at the time, Tim, always ordered the cheese plate instead of a dessert. We used to serve fresh fruit with the cheese, grapes or figs, whatever was in season.

One evening we didn’t have any fruit left to serve with the cheese so I explained this to Tim when he ordered his usual. He asked me if we had any pickled onions instead. I explained that all we had was a jar of my grandad’s homemade. He said that would be perfect. 

Of course I obliged, warning him beforehand of their special potency, and he loved them! Every time Tim and Tony came for dinner from then on, Tim would order his cheese plate with grandad’s pickles on the side.

The funny thing is that Tim and Tony ended up being our best friends over here and 2 years ago they bought the restaurant from us. I like to think that it is all down to grandad’s pickled onions!

This year my auntie Pat came over with my mum and asked if we wanted anything. I couldn’t ask her to bring grandad’s pickled onions because of the no liquids rule and also because I knew she would be up to her luggage limit (It’s a woman thing!) So instead I asked her to bring the recipe so I could make them myself. That and some sumac, vanilla extract and allspice. There’s always something I can’t get here.

So here is the secret recipe for Grandad’s Pickled Onions. I’m only sharing it with you because you deserve it. Don’t go telling everyone about it though…..

Grandad’s Pickled Onions Recipe

makes 1 big jar, vegan, gluten-free

  • 5oogr small onions/shallots, peeled
  • 1 pint (550 ml) malt vinegar
  • 2 large tbsp black treacle (I used miel de cana) or brown sugar
  • 2 red chillies

Put the peeled onions in a bowl of cold salted water and leave for about an hour. Drain and leave to dry.

Put 1/2 pint (275 ml) of the vinegar in a saucepan with the treacle/brown sugar. Bring to the boil stirring continuously until dissolved and then set aside to cool.

Put the onions in your jar and pour over the cold vinegar and treacle mix. Top up with the rest of the malt vinegar, it needs to cover the onions. Cut the chillis in half lengthways and push them down inside the jar. Seal with a lid and store in a cool dry place for about a month before opening.

Thanks Grandad,

Lots of Love,

Natalie xx


43 Responses to “Grandad’s Pickled Onions”

  1. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide July 14, 2011 at 4:08 pm #

    What a nice post about your grandpa. Those look fantastic too. Wonderful photos.

  2. Kelly July 14, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    Awww what a sweet post and a great story! These look delicious 🙂

  3. chicaandaluza July 14, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

    I got quite emotional reading this lovely post – what lovely memories for you and bought back lots of similar ones for me. Your grandad´s pickled onions sound very much like the ones my mum and nan used to make every autumn – sweet and spicy. I´d love to make some but where do you manage to find the little onions here, I´ve never tracked them down?

    • foodblogandthedog July 14, 2011 at 6:25 pm #

      I buy the little onions from a greengrocer opposite Mercadona in Alhaurin el Grande where I live. They come in little net bags & they’re called cebolla francesa. Glad I could bring back some memories for you and I hope you find the onions!!

      • chicaandaluza July 17, 2011 at 10:25 am #

        Thanks for that, at least I know what they call them now. Will have to send Big Man on a mission later in the year!

  4. sarah July 14, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

    What lovely memories and gorgeous, gorgeous onions! I don’t think I’ve ever tried a pickled onion but I love most things pickled…especially with a little heat. Love this post!

  5. Caroline July 14, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    This is such a sweet post, and these onions look fantastic. Btw, saw that your peaches are featured on foodpress. Congrats!!

  6. Erin @ Dinners, Dishes and Desserts July 14, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    Pickeled onions? Sounds great! What a wonderful post!

  7. tony ward July 14, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    You know Grandad will be impossible from now on as well as a legend in his own lifetime at the pub !!
    Great post and, as you say princess, brings back lots of fond memories of Boxing day, with us ‘Adults’ trying to get you KIDS to behave, some things don’t change.
    Well done on the wordpress lisings, onwards and upwards, if you get the pun.
    lol xxxx
    Could fancy some pickled onions now actually.

  8. kankana July 15, 2011 at 1:50 am #

    aaawww that is so sweet 🙂 It was so nice reading about your grand pa.
    They are the best-test.. aren’t they !
    These onion looks nice too!

  9. Maris (In Good taste) July 15, 2011 at 3:45 am #

    I hope grandad gets to read this lovely post about himself! Really loved your photos!

  10. frugalfeeding July 15, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    It’s funny, our pickled onions come from my grandmother. They looks exactly the same too, then again do they ever look different. We have a massive jar at the back of our fridge just waiting to be eaten!

  11. peasepudding July 15, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    There is nothing quite like a homemade pickle, particularly if the have some kick!

  12. Carolyn July 15, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    I love this post so much, in part because you call your grandfather “Grandad”. That’s what my kids call my dad, his request, because that’s what he called his grandfather. I like it so much better than Grandpa. I also love the story of the pickled onions on Boxing Day (being Canadian, we also celebrated Boxing Day growing up) and being scared of the onions.
    I am very into pickling things these days, I may have to try these!

  13. Tes July 15, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    You have such a sweet grandpa 🙂 And this pickle onion recipe is a treasure 🙂

  14. Angie's Recipes July 15, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    Such a sweet grandpa!
    Bet those pickled onions taste especially good!

  15. Mind Over Batter July 16, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    What a lovely story! I am savoring those pickled onions… Just beautiful!

  16. something_good July 16, 2011 at 6:52 pm #

    I love pickled onions! and I’ve enjoyed your story a lot!

  17. tiffany July 17, 2011 at 6:01 am #

    I loved reading about your granddad! And what a great recipe of his… I especially love that he uses malt vinegar!

  18. Jennifer Ward-Pelar July 18, 2011 at 2:36 am #

    My god woman, your pictures are AMAZING. Please tell me what camera you’re using. (Not that that’s why they are so wonderful. You have quite the artistic eye.)
    I especially like that you took a picture of granddad’s handwritten recipe and a picture of him. All my grandparents are long gone and I never got to know them or understand their cooking methods. I love that you still have that chance. For a few minutes, I got to live through you. Thanks for that. 🙂

    • foodblogandthedog July 18, 2011 at 11:54 am #

      Thank you! At the moment I am using a point & shoot Toshiba S20 nothing flash, but I have ordered a Canon 1000 D SLR which I am very excited about. It should arrive this week, can’t wait!!

      • Jennifer Ward-Pelar July 18, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

        Looking forward to seeing the pictures with the new camera. But I loved the point and shoot.

  19. denise @ quickies on the dinner table July 21, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    I don’t know if I’d want to eat a pickled onion – my late grandma made them too, though differently of course. Everyone else raved about them, but ……. lol

    You sure do make them look pretty though. And your granddad sounds like an amazing guy. How blessed you are, to still have him with you 🙂

    • dionne wakely October 27, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

      Gonna make some today,,,,have always done my own pickles but not with treacle so gonna give it a go. Thanks to you and your grandad for the recipie

  20. Jean Tragen January 17, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

    Are you sure they are gluten free? I thought malt vinear was not good for coeliacs

  21. Kamcha April 14, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    You made me cry with this post – all the lovely memories and the way you told the story. Enough for a short movie about fabulous effects of having a good loving family!
    Truly wonderful introduction to trying something I never really dared try before. Thanks to you and your dear Grandfather!

  22. Shalori September 17, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    I wanted to print this page out. I found the print button and put it to PDF. Opened it to find it was ALL text and not one pict! Thats no fun. I wanted the recipe for pickled onions. Im also looking at red cabbage.. how about it? Can ya fix it so the folks like me who use PDF’s can save recipes (with pictures)!? Thanks

  23. Pam October 22, 2012 at 11:55 pm #

    Which do you prefer , black treacle or brown sugar for ‘Grandad’s ‘ pickled onions?

    • Natalie Ward October 23, 2012 at 10:07 am #

      The treacle definitely gives them that dark sweetness you need here!!

      • Pamela October 23, 2012 at 11:36 am #

        Thank you! Look forward to doing the pickled onions with black treacle , probably try the brown sugar as well! Pam

        Sent from my iPad

  24. gemma December 12, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    Hi there, loved your story and made some of the pickled onions about 3 weeks ago ready for Christmas. 🙂 I’ve just checked on them and they seem to have a kinda black dust swishing around in the jar. I’m guessing it’s from the treacle. Is this usual?? I followed the recipe to a tee and made sure it was disolved and cooled before I added to the jars. Thought best to ask as this is my 1st attempt at pickled onions!

    • Natalie Ward December 12, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

      These should settle eventually it could be from the salt. As long as your jars were clean there shouldn’t be any problems. I always keep them in the fridge after opening but not sure this is totally necessary. Enjoy!!

      • gemma December 12, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

        Thanks for the reply. I’m sure they’ll be fine, all the jars went through the dishwasher. Can’t wait to try them! Merry Christmas! 🙂

  25. Buttons and Paint August 18, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    Thanks for sharing a great recipe for pickled onions! I’ve just made a batch and shared on our blog with a link back to you (hope that’s OK?!). I’ve now got to be patient and wait till they’re ready to try 🙂

    • lou2461 October 5, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

      I’ve just discovered your recipe and love the story about your Grandad – sounds very much like mine (sadly departed now) with his huge veg and fruit garden plus he had chickens and many years ago he and Gran kept their own pigs. I’m looking forward to eating these at Christmas!


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