Day 281: Pickled Onions

I’ve often wonder why jars of mixed pickles always seem to have just one or two pickled onions. It’s a bit like the cans of fruit cocktail with just one cherry. I can’t help you with the fruit cocktail but if you are a fan of Pickled Onions perhaps the recipe in The New Galt Cook Book from 1898 can help. It was contributed by Miss Wardlaw.

One of many companies preparing pickling spice mixtures for sale to grocers.

One of many companies preparing pickling spice mixtures for sale to grocers.

I don’t really like pickled onions so I wanted to test the recipe with just a small amount. I was able to buy a bag of the small white onions at my grocery store. I took a handful and peeled them. Apparently this can be done easily by popping them briefly in boiling water but I did it by hand instead. I put them in a small saucepan with 1 cup vinegar and 1 cup water. I boiled them for 10 minutes and then drained them. I put the boiled onions in a jar. Next I prepared the seasoned vinegar. I put 2 cups vinegar in the saucepan and added 1 dried red pepper and 1 tablespoon of mixed pickling spice. I assumed that the red peppers in the recipe were dried since fresh would need a similar treatment to the onions. What do you think? Did I make the correct decision? I also wasn’t sure about the mixed spices. This instruction leaves room for you to use whatever spices you like but mixed spice and pickling spice are mentioned in the Canadian Grocer trade magazine in 1898. The pickling spice mix I bought in 2014 contained mustard seed, coriander, by leaves, dill seed, fenugreek, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cayenne pepper, black pepper, cloves and some oil. I added just one small dried chili pod since the mix included it already. I left the spices to boil in the vinegar until the spices were a bit less dehydrated. Should I strain the spices or include them in the jar. I decided to keep everything together and poured it all over the onions in the jar. It was time to follow the usual canning procedures to seal and store the pickled onions but first I wanted to sample one immediately.

Miss Wardlaw is familiar to me from the number of sick room recipes she contributed to the cook book. She was Margaret (Maggie) Janet Wardlaw daughter of John Wardlaw and Mary Ann Davidson. Her parents were from Scotland but she was born in 1862 possibly in Oxford County where the family was listed in the 1861 census. By the time she was nine they lived in Galt Ontario where her father was a woollen manufacturer. He was a bronze medal winner for his woollen yarns at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876. In 1891 Maggie was living at home with her parents and several of her brothers. One is a dentist and she’s a nurse at the hospital in Galt. Although her parents were still living in 1901 the census shows Maggie is living with her brother who is a doctor. It is just the two of them plus a servant. I assume that Maggie is acting as the nurse for her brother’s medical practice. I think by 1911 she’s living in Toronto but I’m not sure and I don’t know how she ended up there. She died of a heart condition in Newmarket in 1931. Her brother Thomas was the person providing details for her death certificate. He’s a commercial agent and living on Scott Street in Toronto so I suspect that’s why Maggie ended up there. Her obituary appears in the Newmarket Era newspaper on October 30, 1931 but doesn’t provide any information.

I’m not a big fan of pickled onions but I like them better than most cucumber pickles. The onions tasted like onions but the vinegar was interesting and the chili pepper gave it quite the kick! It will be interesting to taste again after a few weeks to see if the onions have absorbed much of the seasoned vinegar. There are many versions of pickled onions. Some use malt vinegar as a base, some are sort of sweet and sour, and then there is Miss Wardlaw’s spicy version. If this 1898 recipe sounds like the kind you like then give them a try. They are easy to make and look nice in a plate of mixed pickles.


Miss Wardlaw

Get the small white onions, peel them. Boil in vinegar and water, about half and half, for ten minutes; drain, and put in bottles. Have vinegar boiling which is well spiced with red peppers and mixed spices, pour over the onions while boiling.


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