I cultivate friends with skills. Like Hank Shaw, master forager and inspiring hunter and cook, who showed me how to pluck wapato tubers from the marshy muck on a wetland's verge. Or Jack Czarnecki, mushroom guru extraordinaire, who revealed the mysteries of mycological activity occuring deep beneath the ground in Oregon's forests. Then there's Linda Colwell, who, among many other things, shared her passion for infused liqueurs made from seasonal berries and luscious syrups made from flowers. Not only do I learn new skills and work with (and enjoy) the freshest ingredients, I get to know fantastically smart and interesting people, a win-win-win!
Salted, rinsed onions.
One skill I've been jonesing to learn is pickling. (I know, right? It shocks me that I've never learned how.) No one in my family was into it when I was growing up, though I vaguely recall my mother tried pickling cucumbers a few times with apparently unsatisfactory results. So I was thrilled when my neighbor Bill, an amazing gardener and super nice guy, called and said that he and his equally cool wife, Jen, were going to make a batch of pickled onions from the Walla Walla sweet onions he'd harvested from his garden.
Onions going into jars.
Trying to walk, not run down to their house, I arrived with a jar of black currant jam in hand as payola to find that Jen had sliced the onions into half-inch rings and salted them down, then rinsed them thoroughly. They'd also made a brine of vinegar, sugar and some thyme leaves from their garden. While the onions were cooking in the brine, Jen pulled washed jars out of the dishwasher and put canning lids into a saucepan to simmer and sterilize.
Adding the brine.
Then it was just using tongs to pluck out the onions and fill the jars, pouring the still-hot brine over the onions and putting the lids on before they went into a hot water bath for ten minutes. Seriously, the whole process took a little over 90 minutes start to finish—along with the serious amount of time I spent wondering what in heck had prevented me from trying this simple process before. Thanks, guys!
For the brine:
3 1/2 c. white vinegar
2 c. sugar
1-2 tsp. thyme leaves plus sprigs for garnishing each jar
For the onions:
16 c. onions, sliced crosswise into 1/2" disks
4 Tbsp. pickling spice
10 1-cup canning jars and ten lids and rings
Wash ten one-cup jars in the dishwasher (or wash by hand in hot water). Allow to dry. Fill canner 2/3 full of water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cover.
Place onions and pickling spice into large mixing bowl and combine. Set aside for 1 hour, occasionally mixing them with your hands and separating them into rings. Rinse thoroughly to wash off any remaining pickling spice and squeeze gently to remove as much moisture as possible. Set in colander to drain.
While the onions are draining, put the vinegar, sugar and thyme leaves into a large pot and bring to a boil. Add the drained onions and when the brine returns to a boil, lower the heat slightly and cook the onions at a low boil for 10 minutes. While the onions are cooking, put the jars on a towel-lined tray. Put canning lids in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then turn off heat.
Using tongs, put onions in each jar to within 1/2" of the rim (you won't necessarily use all the jars). Pour hot brine over the onions in the jars to within 1/2" of the rim. Top with sprig of thyme, if desired. With a clean towel, wipe the rims dry and place the canning lids on top, then screw on the canning rings finger-tight. Using canning lifter, submerge jars in the canner and bring water to a boil. When water in the canner returns to a boil, cook for 10 minutes. Using lifter, remove jars from canner and set on a towel on the counter to cool. Listen for the lids to pop, signifying a complete seal. They can be stored in a cool, dark place for from several months or up to a year.