My Great Grandmother's Pickled Onion Recipe

To the world she was Katherine Williams. To the Welsh mountain village where she lived, she was Mrs Williams a Pobty (that is, Mrs Williams of the Bake House; her home was once the village bakery). To my mum she was Nanan. 

She was my great grandmother.

For this post I will share with you her recipe for pickled onions - a vintage recipe that dates back to the 1930s and has not been written down before. It’s a tradition in my family to make these onions in November, just in time for Christmas. So get your skates on.

It's delightfully basic. It produces onions of intense flavour with a loud crunch. They’ll be ready in six weeks, and can be enjoyed for the next 12 months.

A word of warning. When you are making them, your kitchen, and possibly most of your house, will make your eyes water.

You will need

1 - Glass storage jars, the Kilner type are best. My family tends to use 2 litre ones. They should be clean and sterilised.

2 - A bag of "Onions for Pickling" – not shallots, do you hear? Onions should be evenly sized, with the largest no bigger than a golf ball.

3 - Standard malt vinegar (enough to fill your jars, of course). Don’t get vinegar with any poncey spices added.

4 – Table salt and white sugar.

Elizabeth Terrace in Glasinfryn where Nanan lived. This was sketched by my father (The English Boy) from Nanan's front door. The house my mother grew up in is the last on the right. This sketch was done in 1963 when my dad was 18

What to do

1 - Remove the skin from the onions and top and tail them.

2 - Place your onions in your jars till they reach the top (they do shrink a little when pickled).

3 - Add a tablespoon of salt per litre and let it cascade over the onions. Then pour water over the top, to wash the salt through. Seal the lid and tip the jar upside down to get a good briney mix.

5 - Leave for 24 hours.

6 - Put an open hand over the jar and drain out the salt water. Then put the jar under the tap and flood with clean water to rinse the onions whilst they're in the jar (again using an open hand to stop them bobbing out).

7 - Pour the vinegar into the jars until about ¾ full. What you are doing here is seeing how much vinegar you need: that vinegar’s not stopping in the jar, it’s going into a saucepan. So do that next.

8 – The smelly bit. Put the pan of vinegar on full heat and add 1 tablespoon of sugar per litre. Stir occasionally to make sure the sugar has disappeared. When the vinegar has boiled remove from heat and leave to cool, or put the pan in a sink of cold water to rapid cool.

9 – When vinegar is cool, pour it into the jars up to the ¾ level.

10 – Then use cooled boiled water to top-up the remaining ¼ of the jar.

Leave for six weeks and give them a bite! They should be crisp and strong.

They'll be good for the next 12 months too. Hope you enjoy them as much as my family has over the years.

Invitation to Comment

Do please tell me if you have any family recipes; are they still made?

If you could have one day back, to spend with a lost Grandparent, how would you spend it?

Next Post: The 18th Century Brocade Shoe

If you enjoyed this post, and want to catch the Brocade Shoe, may I suggest you click this link to add Vintage Copywriting to your Feed Reader or click here to receive  Vintage Copywriting by Email? Or, if you're thinking "what's a feed reader?", click here  to read my very helpful article: What's  a Feed Reader?


  1. I'm going to make the pickled onion recipe! My husband is fond of pickles but I've never had the courage to give it a go! I'll let you know how it turns out!

  2. Thanks Hannah I'm delighted you're going to give it a go! Hope you and your husband get a reak kick out of them. They are known in the family as "the onions that bite back".


  3. Comment in from my mum

    "If I could spend a day with Nanan I would catch the beautiful old village bus with her, as I did each Saturday and travel to Bangor."

  4. Hi Angela

    I love your dad's drawing, it is wonderful, reminds me of the sketches that I used to do when I was young. My nan used to make lovely pickled onions too, they were really dark brown and super-strength, it'd always be a challenge at Christmas between myself and my dad to who would eat the most. My mouth is watering at the thought. Thanks for this post, it's brought back some lovely memories for me.


  5. Mmm...Your great-grandmother's pickled onions look delicious. I'm going to pick up some little onions at the farmer's market this weekend and try your recipe. Perfect for holiday condiment trays.

    As to how I would spend a day with my beloved grandmother--a woman who hugely influenced my life: I would be happy to spend the most ordinary day with her, as I did so often as a child.

    My grandmother was born in 1898 and she followed an Edwardian daily routine well into the 1980s: she wore a dressing gown in the morning until after breakfast--always eaten in the dining room, even when it was just two of us! Then she changed into a house dress and "put on her face."

    Grandma's hands never stopped: she was a fine needlewoman, making needlepoint chairs, knitting Chanel-style suits and even tatting web-like lace.

    On summer afternoons, after the worst heat of the day passed, we might venture downtown to run errands. She'd change again, donning a dressier frock, hose and proper foundational garments!

    Always gentle and kind, I never heard my grandmother raise her voice. Any day with her was special and memorable.

  6. Lorraine, delighted you are going to give them a try! They bite back, I warn you.

    Your grandmother sounds fantastic, I love her daily routine and approach to life, it seems so glamorous and like something from a black and white movie. There's much to be said for taking such time over yourself each day. No wonder she had such an influence on you.

    My grandmother also had a very routine approach to things. She wore a pinny whenever she did the housework, which was a proper job to her not something rushed and resented around 'real' work. Dusting, polishing the brass, baking - each had their designated day - and washday with her classic twin tub.

    If I could have a day back I'd like to spend it with her and my partner. She died about a year before I met him, but I know they would have adored each other through their shared love of the Welsh language. She was a native speaker and he's always wanted to learn.



Post a Comment

Thanks for taking time to leave a comment. Much appreciated!

Popular posts from this blog

The World War I Embroidered Silk Postcards

The 1960s Bundeswehr (West German) Greatcoat

1950s Ronson Cadet Mini Cigarette Lighter