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Pickle Pearl Onions

Read: Recipes

Pickle Pearl Onions

Pallas Erdrich

A cocktail hour treat!

This quick technique offers up a ready accompaniment to dinner or happy hour. 

My first taste of a pickled pearl onion was from my dad’s martini. The onion was crunchy and tart and a far cry from our Sunday dinner’s frozen pearl onions in “real” cream sauce. For years I stocked up on those “cocktail onions” for drinks and snacks until I discovered how easy it was to make my own. The onions I use are sold in 10-ounce mesh bags in the produce department, in the colors of white, red and gold. They add flavor and color to soups, stews and braises. But I like them best pickled.

These little onions are milder and just a tad sweeter than their larger cousins. They are grown commercially in high-density rows, then harvested while still small. There is an actual variety of onion called the “white pearl,” which is beloved by the French and Swedish. It is a different variety from the commercial onions and is grown mostly in home gardens. I keep a bag of the different colors on hand: The red are the sharpest tasting; the gold have a silky texture, and the white maintain their pure white color and snap once they’re peeled.

Like all onions, these pearls should feel firm and heavy, and look shiny. The skin around the neck should be very tightly closed. They shouldn’t have any soft or dark spots or sprouting. One sure way to see if the onions are fresh is to sniff them before buying. If the odor is strong, they may be past their prime.

Store these onions in their mesh bags in a cool, dry and well-ventilated place until ready to use. Light can cause them to turn bitter. Because they readily absorb moisture, keep them away from potatoes, which exude a natural gas that speeds the onions’ spoilage. Pearl onions are in season year-round and are good to pickle at any time.

To peel pearl onions: Pearl onions are thin-skinned, so they can be tricky to peel. The quickest method is to blanch them first in a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds, then drain and cool them. The peels will slip off right away and the onions will be ready to use.

Pickled Onions

Makes about 3 cups.

Note: These will keep several weeks in the refrigerator. They make terrific holiday gifts. They're great as a condiment on a cheese platter and perfect in a martini. The red onions will turn the brine a very pretty shade of pink. From Beth Dooley.

• 3 c. pearl onions, mix of red, white and gold

• 8 cloves

• 2 sprigs fresh thyme

• 6 whole bay leaves

• 2 c. water

• 2 c. white wine vinegar

• 1/4 c. sugar

• 2 tsp. kosher salt


In a pot of rapidly boiling water, blanch the onions for about 30 seconds, drain and allow to cool. Slip off the skins and put into a large, clean jar or several smaller glass jars. Add the cloves, thyme and bay leaves to the onions.

In a medium saucepan stir together 2 cups water, vinegar, sugar and salt; set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour the brine over the onions. Cool and cover, then refrigerate. Allow about 2 to 3 days for the onions to pickle before serving.

Originally Published by The Star Tribune