Wednesday, March 16, 2011

know your onions

I once had a checkout operator at the local supermarket pick up a red onion from my groceries on the conveyor belt and ask me what it was.  I recovered from that Jamie Oliver moment where I was stunned into silence that someone did not recognize a fairly common vegetable, and told her.  She asked what you would do with it.  After that, I picked her checkout every time.  I truly liked her innocence.  It made going to the supermarket a much more rewarding experience.  She never failed to ask me questions about produce I had bought or comment on how much wine I had in my shopping trolley and was I going to drink it all myself. (I wasn’t!)  Sadly, she is not on the checkouts anymore.  I hope it was an educational experience for her.

What’s been an educational experience for me is watching the onion pickers out here in the produce belt. They spend hours from daybreak to sunset  lifting the onions from the earth. Inside the house you can hear the hypnotic clicking sound as the pickers move slowly down the rows, hand clipping the onion tops off. Sometimes, it’s like an art form. The picked and clipped onions are placed on the earth in groups. Gradually a line forms as they are laid out to dry in the sun (this apparently kills the root system at the bottom of each bulb). And finally, there is row upon row of bagged onions waiting to be collected. It’s a beautiful sight - a photo begging to be taken.

I love ...

oven baked red onions and vegetables
sliced raw red onions with cheese in toasted sandwiches
raw red onions in salads – sweet and juicy, adding colour

I tried making onion marmalade for the first time. It turned out fine - a little sweet for me perhaps, but others liked it. Later I saw a recipe on the BBC website. From the photo, it looked like their onions had held their glorious red colour (perhaps they'd just Photo-shopped it?).  I'll try it sometime and let you know...

This one is adapted from a recipe in Fruits of the Earth by Gloria Nicol.

red onion marmalade

1kg (2lb 4oz) red onions, peeled, quartered and then sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
250ml (17fl oz) red wine vinegar
250ml (17fl oz) balsamic vinegar
750g (1lb 10oz) muscovado sugar (or a dark brown sugar)
2 bay leaves
2 tsp salt
ground black pepper

  1. Heat the oil in a large stainless steel pan or preserving pan.  Add onions and cook gently for about 20 minutes until soft but not browned.
  2. Add all other ingredients and simmer gently for 1-1½ hours until mixture is dark and thick but still juicy, stirring occasionally.
  3. Pour the marmalade into hot, sterilized jars and seal.

I wash the jars in hot soapy water, then rinse. While still wet, I place them in the microwave for 1 minute to sterilize. I pour boiling hot water over the lids and any utensils I will be using to spoon the preserve into the jars. I tend to use a mini ladle for this.

I've been having a hard time posting this blog.  The formatting keeps previewing all wrong.  Now, I don't know if this is me or Blogger.  So, if you're looking at it and it looks kind of funny - I've given up and gone to bed!


  1. Absolutely LOVE the photo in this post of the onions in the field...gorgeous! Makes me want to head into my kitchen and make onion marmalade ;) Thank you for adding me to your list of food blogs!

  2. I enjoyed this post Lesley - I have never considered how onions are harvested before. I adore onion marmalade - I should give this a go. Blogger has a mind of its own sometimes - and to fix it usually requires an intensive Google search and lots of good luck.

  3. To Stay At Home Chef: I'm afraid I can't take credit for the photo, as Bill, my partner, took it. I agree it's a great photo.

    To Cakelaw: Thanks - I tried searching "known problems" on Blogger to no avail. In the end, I just kept going until it was right. I wasn't going "to bed" until the post had gone "to bed". Get's you like that, sometimes!

  4. Lesley - afraid the curse of blogspot is part of the game. You just have to curse even louder to get there. If you have a look at my early posts you'll see me screaming, virtually of course.

    Oh those onions.......

  5. Hi Maggie - it certainly looked like you were screaming in cyberspace! Now, I don't feel so bad. Glad to see you back.

  6. Really loved this Lesley - you made "knowing your onions" interesting! Words and photographs so beautiful they made me want to cry!