The earth is warming, and if you are a farmer or gardener or just mowing the lawn, you know the air is heady with the scent of the first green sprigs. Onions.
Look around the farmers market. Onions are everywhere. Spring onions, the sweet, perky white or red bulbs that get rounder and plumper every week, are the first crop. Close behind are ramps, those early-season, foraged members of the onion family. Soon after, expect a strong-scented allium: garlic scapes, the flower stalk of new garlic plants. All these are in the market for just a brief period, then gone until next year. That is why we preserve: to hold on to those foods that appear and disappear at an astonishing rate.
Piquant as a companion to simple grilled fish or chicken or as a zingy, addictive sandwich addition, pickled onions are not a new idea. Think of British pub fare, the ploughman’s lunch, where onion pickle is a must, or a French country pâté served with a briny pickled onion nestled next to the cornichon. Consider quick-pickled onions, those delicate thin slivers that drape across a taco, or the plump, salty orb that sinks to the bottom of a Gibson cocktail. All of those are delightful options for the bounty of available onions, but I want to introduce you to something different: Sweet and Sour Onion Pickle, a recipe for spring onions, ramps or scapes, but not for the meager grocery store scallion.
Be polite. This is a homely creature, at best. Look past the pale green, please. It tastes sensational. Dice this pickled onion and sprinkle it across your sandwich, add it to any salad (especially tuna), stir it into eggs (deviled, in particular) or mash it into pimento cheese until its little bits of sassiness stud the spread.
Canning Class appears twice a month. Barrow’s first cookbook, “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving” (W.W. Norton), will be published in the fall. She blogs at www.mrswheelbarrow.com.