ashley englishsmall measures

small measures with ashley: onion relish & quick pickles

by Ashley

The growing season is revving up for many of us. Seeds are being sown, vegetable starts are going into the ground and greenmarkets are reopening, showcasing their earliest offerings of the year. Among those newly emerging crops are members of the allium family. From ramps (SO good in mashed potatoes!) and garlic to shallots and scallions, the green shoots of alliums are seasonal harbingers of all sorts of goodness to come.

For today’s Small Measures with Ashley, I’m sharing two of my go-to recipes using perhaps the most well-known allium of them all: onions. I’ve got a relish and a pickle for you, with these most odorous of bulbs featured front and center. They’re super easy to make, are excellent host/hostess gifts for a dinner party or casual get-together and allow you to put some springtime in a bottle, to be enjoyed now and later. — Ashley

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Onion, Orange & Thyme Relish
Makes 4 pint-sized jars

This relish would be just as heavenly on a burger (I’ve been seriously into lamb burgers lately, with meat sourced from a nearby farm) or a hot dog as it would on a grilled portabello and eggplant sandwich. It would also be lovely in a warm potato salad doused in an herbaceous vinaigrette. I’ve included directions for water-bath canning, as this recipe makes a rather good amount of relish.


  • 8 c. chopped onions
  • 1 Tbsp. pickling salt
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 3/4 c. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme (or 1 Tbsp. fresh)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh orange zest


1. Layer 4 cups of the chopped onions in a large bowl. Sprinkle 1/2 of the salt over them. Top off with remaining onions and then cover with the last bit of salt.

2. Stir with a wooden spoon or clean hands. Cover loosely with a cloth, and set aside at room temperature for 4 hours.

3. At the end of 4 hours, drain onions in a colander. No need to rinse them; simply press with the back of a large spoon to remove any excess liquid.

4. Sterilize 4 pint-sized mason jars, lids and screw rings. Fill a canner or large stockpot with water and set over medium-high heat. Bring just to boiling point. Place lids in a small saucepan, fill with water, bring to a boil, turn off heat, remove from stovetop and set aside.

5. While your canner works toward boiling, combine the sugar, vinegar, thyme, orange zest and garlic in a large saucepan or stockpot. Heat gradually over medium-low heat until sugar is completely dissolved. Bring heat to medium-high until mixture comes to a boil.

6. Add onions to syrup, reduce heat to medium, stir to combine thoroughly and simmer 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

7. Remove sterilized jars from canner; place jars on top of a kitchen cloth on the counter. With the help of a canning funnel, fill jars with onion relish, reserving 1/2-inch headspace.

8. Use a non-metallic spatula to remove any trapped air bubbles, and wipe rims clean with a damp cloth. Place on lids and screw bands, tightening only until fingertip-tight.

9. Using a jar lifter, place jars in a canner. Process 15 minutes in a boiling-water bath (remember, don’t begin to count your processing time until the water is at a constant, rapid boil). Adjust for altitude, as needed.

10. Remove the jars from the canner. Check that a proper seal has formed (lids should become concave, you’ll have heard a popping sound and the lids should remain attached to the jar when lifted without screw band).

11. Take off screw bands, wipe jars dry and store in a cool, dark location. Use within one year.

Spring Onion & Cilantro Refrigerator Pickles
Makes 1 pint-sized jar

These refrigerator-pickled onions are the essence of springtime. Paired with fresh cilantro, garlic (another allium!), lemon zest and spices, they’re perfect for dunking into a Bloody Mary or martini (an herb-infused vodka would be particularly lovely here). They’d also be great on an antipasto platter served with some hard salumi slices, cornichons and pickled beets (another springtime crop). This recipe makes just 1 pint jar of refrigerator pickles. If you’d like to make more for canning, simply double the quantity for each additional jar and process per the instructions above.


  • about 15–20 green onions (enough to fill the jar) cut into 3″ lengths
  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
  • a few small strips of lemon zest


1. Bring the water and vinegar to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan.

2. Stir in the salt and sugar until thoroughly incorporated.

3. Remove the brining solution from heat.

4. Meanwhile, blanch the green onions for 2 minutes in boiling water, then drain.

5. Fill a pint-sized jar with the green onions.

6. Add the spices, cilantro and lemon zest.

7. Pour the brine over the onions.

8. Screw a lid onto the jar and refrigerate for 3 days before eating, and up to a few weeks.

What about you? Got any favorite ways of jazzing up springtime onions? This recent round-up from Saveur magazine offers a treasure trove of suggestions. Along with strawberries, rhubarb, peas and a medley of greens, onions are the “all clear” signal that a feast of good eats is on the way!

Suggested For You


  • How exactly do you fit 15-20 green onions (assuming the bulbs are as large as those pictured) into a single pint jar? Use the bulbs for the relish and the stems for the fridge pickle? Or is it better to use the skinny onions instead?

  • Abbey-The onions pictured in the photos above are for use in the onion relish. You’ll want to use thin, smaller spring onions for the quick pickles, which aren’t pictured (I actually made the pickles and then remembered, after the fact, that I’d neglected to photograph them!). Sorry for the confusions!

  • fantastic! i look forward to trying these. it was your book, homemade living: canning & preserving, that got be hooked on canning and pickling. i just can’t get enough of different pickle and relish varieties now. and such a wonderful way of capturing a moment (or taste!) in time to enjoy later.

  • These recipes look fantastic, and I’m looking forward to trying them. Is it possible to swap out the sugar for Splenda or some other substitute?

  • aidel-i’m honestly not sure. i don’t use sugar substitutes in cooking, so i’m not sure if they would work the same. i do know that sugar’s high acidity, coupled with the vinegar, renders these items safe for water bath canning. i’m unacquainted enough with sugar substitutes such as splenda and their application in home canning. if you know of a ratio for substituting sugar for substitutes, you could give it a try and simply refrigerate (as opposed to water bath can) the results. also, an online search might provide a more reliable source of info. on the topic.

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