The onion must surely lay claim to being one of the most widely known and used vegetables in the world. Aside from some religious groups, such as followers of the Hindu deity Krishna, who are forbidden to partake of onions and garlic, it is difficult if not impossible to name a nation or culture which does not use one or other member of the Allium family. Onions are almost a given in any savoury dish. I know a number of cooks who would say that they chop up an onion and start to saute it even before they have made a decision about what is on the dinner menu.
Familiarity with the onion has perhaps bred some boredom with it. It has played a supporting role in cookery for so long that to consider it in a starring role requires some conscious consideration. Perhaps today I can offer you some insight into the possibilities of this most useful vegetable.
Onions have a long history of medicinal use, but the following remedy could perhaps be adapted to a side-dish:
Onion for Colds.
Another way of preparing onions for use in cases of cold used to be, and probably still is, much employed by Highland people. It is as follows:—Open a large onion in the centre of the top and remove enough of the centre to make room for about a dessertspoonful of treacle. Put in the treacle, close the onion, and bake till soft. To be peeled and eaten hot by the patient.
The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld.) 16 February 1895.
Onion vinegar is a useful thing to have, especially where a delicate flavour of this vegetable is required; it improves many salads. To every couple of large Spanish onions one quart of the best white wine vinegar, one teaspoonful of salt, and two of caster sugar. Grate the onions, sprinkle over them the salt and sugar, cover them over, and let them stand two or three hours in a cool place; after that time add the vinegar, put the mixture into wide-mouthed bottles, tie them down with paper, set them in a cool room, and shake them every day for about a fortnight; strain through a fine cloth, put into small bottles and cork tightly. This can easily be prepared at any time when Spanish onions are available, so that it is best to make small quantities and have the vinegar fresh.
The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld.) 16 February 1895
Take half a dozen young onions, boil them (changing the water twice, so that they may not be too strong); when cooked drain and chop finely. Place onions in a basin, add ½ oz. of butter, pepper, and salt to taste. Stir all together, and place in saucepan of boiling water until the contents become hot. Have ready some slices of buttered toast and on the centre of each place a slice of hard-boiled egg, cover with onions, and serve immediately.
Sunday Times (Perth, WA) 9 November 1913
To mitigate the insipidity of the meatless day to which housewives all over the country are pledging themselves there is a piquant dish of onions much used by Italians and warranted to banish the longing for any other viand. Cut two large Brmuda onions in rather thick slices, thick enough to prevent their falling into rings. Soak the slices for a couple of hours in a cup of sweet milk., drain and sprinkle with toasted and rolled breadcrumbs into which a tablespoonful of melted butter has been rubbed. Fry the slices in olive oil and serve at once on lettuce leaves or toast points.
La Crosse Tribune and Leader Press (Wisconsin) April 25, 1917
Take four Spanish onions and parboil. Take two mutton kidneys and skin them; mince them, adding breadcrumbs, sage, pepper, and salt to taste; mix all together with the yolk of an egg. Peel the onions and take out the centre and stuff with ingredients; put them into a tin with a little butter and bake a light brown; serve on hot buttered toast.
London Evening News January 21, 1898
Finally, my favourite recipe of the day: let me know if you try it!
Slice a pound of onions into a crock, and also add a pound of barley or sliced potatoes. The recipe calls for two pounds of raisins, which are out of sight now. (I think a good substitute might be to add two sliced oranges and two sliced lemons.) Heat two gallons of water and in it dissolve four pounds of sugar. When lukewarm, add two packs of yeast.
When this ferments it will drive you out of the house, but when fermentation ceases the odor is tolerable. Let it age a year, and you have a truly delicious nectar that doesn’t smell or taste like onions.
Athens Sunday Messenger (Ohio), March 20, 1977
Hi, Janet -- Side question for you. We in the U.S. don't have a comparison for the various spoons used as measuring sizes in UK recipes. Could you give us a brief rundown on things like dessertspoons in ounces so we know what to use as an equivalent? That would be a great help to me, and perhaps to other cooks as well. Thanks!
Hi Pieter: I will put something together for you - very soon!
Onions and treacle (shudder)! Georgette Heyer often has characters in her novels sticking roasted onions in their ears for earache -- I've never been able to figure out how they kept them there, but maybe onions were more the size of the modern-day shallot in the Regency period?
Hi korenni - I quite like the idea of onions with a little treacle - not a lot, just enough to emphasise their sweetness. Somewhere in my recipe notebooks I have a recipe for sweet and sour onions: I use the small pickling onions, and brown sugar as the sweetener, with good vinegar s the opposite, and I forget what other seasonings, but it is good.
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