when i first heard that alliums were the produce of choice for this month’s can jam, i couldn’t have been more excited. i am a savory girl, for sure. i’ll take leek confit over a square of chocolate any day. roasted garlic over cheesecake. and i’d choose caramelized onions before selecting a big bowl of ice cream. i soon learned however that my dreams of canning all of my favorite onion and garlic preparations were being shot down at every turn for one very good reason. alliums are low-acid vegetables and they don’t care who knows it. because of this fact, and because i am fairly new to canning, i was having difficulty finding a way to safely can any of my beloved lily family favorites. by the looks of some of the chatter on twitter about this month’s challenge, i am not the only one who was having difficulty.
then i sat down and reminded myself that this was precisely reason that i wanted to join the can jam: to stretch my canning muscles. honestly, if it was gonna be so effortless that i would be able to whip up something without any thought process whatsoever, then what’s the point, right? and isn’t that what life’s all about? setting out to do one thing, then quickly realizing it ain’t happening according to expectations and adjusting as necessary? since i usually choose to make quick, refrigerator-style pickles, i decided that canning a pickle would the most logical next step. i settled on pickled cocktail onions more because they are adorable and i love the taste of anything pickled, than for their obvious practical application of fulfilling a gimlet-lover’s dream. i do plan on giving away a jar or two to the few friends that are known to have cocktail hour, but mostly i will keep them on hand for grilling season, as i imagine their briny little selves will shine next to a pork tenderloin with a nice char or as cooling antipasti. hell, i may even throw them in my next bloody mary.
pickled pearls (makes 1 1/2 pints)
adapted from saving the season
1 heaping pint cocktail onions (just over a pound)
3 cups champagne or white wine vinegar
4-5 tbsp granulated sugar
a few dried chilies de arbol
6 whole allspice
4 whole cloves
10-12 whole black peppercorns
10-12 coriander seeds
2 bay leaves
1- 3″ cinnamon stick
a few grains of cardamom (you can bust the pods open with a rolling pin)
make a brine from 1/4 coarse sea salt (regular iodized salt may turn the brine dark and cloudy and flaky kosher salt may not give the proper proportions for the brine) and 4 cups water, heat gently until salt dissolves, then cool to room temperature.
trim the root and stem ends of each onion and peel away a layer or two ‘to reveal the pristine and glassy interior’ (love that description). this may take awhile, so just slow down and revel in the zen of the activity.
place onions and brine in plastic bags (i used a separate bag for the purple and white onion as to discourage any bleeding of colors) and set in a large bowl to catch any accidental leakage. it was also very easy to keep the onions submerged in the brine this way. brine for a minimum of 12 hours, maximum of 48.
when ready, place vinegar, sugar and aromatics in a saucepan and bring to a boil. simmer for about 15 minutes, then remove from heat. meanwhile drain onions from brine and pack them tightly into sterilized jars. pour brine over onions, leaving 1/2″ headspace, and divide aromatics among jars, adding more if desired. if you are squeamish about heat on the palate, be careful with the hot chiles. breaking them open or adding them to a 4 ounce jar could render the onions rather spicy. process 10 minutes in a hot water bath.
the instructions say to allow flavors to marry for at least 2 weeks before using.