Getting Salty

This weekend I did something I’d been putting off for absolutely ages.  During the summer I grew French Red shallots.  Every year I hold back my biggest and replant them in the hopes that I end up with something a little bigger than the year before.   You see, no matter how hard I try I always end up with the smallest shallots.   But that doesn’t stop me trying to grow them each year.  But it does delay my processing of them.

These are my shallots saved for next season – which is due to be planted out next month.

This latest batch were harvested back in January.  My excuse for not dealing with them then was it was too hot to be stuffing around in the kitchen and they’d keep until I was ready.  To make sure I didn’t forget them I stored them in my office and for months I moved them about the place so I wouldn’t trip over them.  They spent time on the floor, on a stack of books, on my desk, on the chair outside, behind the door, balanced onto of the wastepaper basket and you name it.

Shallot seedlings.
I also grow shallots from seed and this season I have a couple of varieties including Zebrune that I’ve been wanting to try for ages.

Finally, I decided to deal with them – if I’m kidding myself, I can say it was the first step in tidying the office… so we’ll go with that.  So, I brought them inside, popped a gardening video on the telly and set to it.  It didn’t take long before I remembered why I had been putting it off.  Taking the skins off 2.5Kg of teeny tiny onions without removing too many layers that would make them too small to bother with, is very time consuming.  It took about 5 hours!  The Teen Lad Left at Home came in towards the end and noticed I was still at it.  I told him to remember this next time he considered devouring a jar in a single sitting!

pickled onions
So after 5 hours of peeling – I ended up with just 4 precious jars.

By the end of it I was too tired to even set up the brine to soak them in, so I just popped them in the fridge.  The next morning, I set up the brine and left them to soak.  The recipe said leave them overnight, but I’d started in the morning so figured overnight was about 8 hours – give or take…  It is such a strange but perfectly excepted measure of time.  What if I was a night owl and my overnight started at 11pm or I like a good lie in in the morning and don’t get up until gone 10am.  (I’m neither… I am an early to bed early to rise kind of girl!)

Onion peelings
I didn’t take many photos of the process as I was so over it before I even got going, I just wanted to get it over with. And I wasn’t sure the making salt would work so I didn’t take photos then either. So here is a bucket of onion peelings to prove it happened.

The onions were popped in sterile jars and filled with a hot boiled white vinegar, some sugar to take the edge of the sharpness of the vinegar, some spices for a zing and chillies to slow down that teen jar gobbling down a little.  Ordinarily malt vinegar is the vinegar of choice for pickled onions, but I have so many friends with gluten issues that it is nice to be able to whip up a grazing platter for when we have company and not have to worry about causing problems for them.  And then I heard that satisfying pop to say the jars were sealed.  So now we wait.  It should be about 3 months before I get to see just how spicy they turned out.

But as I was clearing up, I had this very large bowl of brine.  I wasn’t sure what to do with it…  a brine that strong would harm the worms in our septic system so I couldn’t just pour it down the sink.

Homemade salt
How cool is this? It doesn’t have the lovely coarse crystals I started with, but it does have a lovely onion aroma. It will be delish on chips!

Then I got an inkling of an idea… It was mostly driven by the fact that the salt used in the brine was the expensive kind…  natural course sea salt that came in a fancy bag.  I’d sent Hubby the Un-Gardener out to get some non-iodised salt that is normally cheap as chips in a cheap as chips bag.  But he couldn’t find anything other than the fancy stuff.  He even video called me from the store to prove it.    It felt wrong to just pour it away, so I decided to claim it back – the recipe called for a cup and a half of this fancy salt, so it was quite a lot to just ‘waste.’

Stormy seas
I may wait for a nicer day before attempting to make some genuine sea salt!

So, I poured it into a roasting pan on the top of the stove and turned both elements below it onto high.  For a while there it felt like my kitchen was some kind of exotic spa, I just needed soft music and something other than the smell of pickling onions.  I wasn’t sure it would work, but eventually the water evaporated off and I was left with a salty slurry with a hint of onion.  Not wanting to burn it, I transferred it to a low oven until it completely dried out.  I broke up the soft lumps and poured it into clean dry jars and by the look of it I managed to reclaim all of the salt I originally used.  What a fab result.  Now I am eyeing up the waves outside my kitchen window wondering….  Hmmm…  could I?  Should I?

Come again soon – there have been some changes in the garden.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

8 thoughts on “Getting Salty

  1. Oh, that is tedious. I know that various pickled onion type vegetables are very good, but I find that for the common onions that I pickle, I must peel quite a bit off from the outside. The outer leaves do not dry as evenly as those of shallots do. Fortunately, the peels do not get wasted. If there are a lot of fleshy bits, I let them dehydrate, They get stewed with other vegetable scraps for vegetable stock.

  2. Oh cool! I love that process of reclaiming the salt! And your photo if the shallot skins in the blue bowl has an artful eye to it. How lucky your guests and family are to get to snack on those!!

  3. Here’s a tip for peeling shallots – put them in boiling water for about 5 minutes first, then the skins come off a lot easier.
    Will be interested to see how you go with harvesting salt! It’s something I’ve often thought about, but haven’t tried. I don’t live beside the sea like you, and you need a LOT of saltwater.

  4. I am not a pickled onion loveryself but it looks like you did a great job Sarah. But most of all I enjoyed your story of reclaiming the salt, that must have given such a good feeling.

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