I used to hate what Vermonters call “Mud Season.” When I first moved to Vermont, I thought the March weather in Vermont was some sort of cruel trick. I couldn’t understand why it was such a terrible combination of mud, sticks and winter. Clueless, I even took my snow tires off in March the first year, and was wondering why it was so easy to get an appointment. Silly me, that’s because the next day we got eight inches of snow, and any good Vermonter knows you leave snows on ‘till May. In Philadelphia, where I grew up, March (and spring in general) had been my favorite time of year because it was so warm and optimistic. Here in Vermont, not even! It’s plain cold and muddy. I hated it. I just wanted March to go away. That is, until my family discovered the joys of making maple syrup or “Backyard Sugarin’!”
Last year we tapped some trees for the first time and discovered just how fun the month of March can be. So far this year, we’ve boiled three times. Each time, friends have come over to help lug buckets of sap, split wood, and generally keep us entertained while boiling in our muddy driveway. I cannot believe how much fun my kids have and how incredibly muddy they get in the process!
I like to serve up some healthy fare for everyone while they help us make syrup. And I do my best to keep it maple related. These pickled onions were my latest maple inspiration. In the past, I’ve made them with regular white table sugar, but I thought it would be fun to try them with maple instead. They are even better this way if you ask me.
So to serve them to my sugaring crew, I made canapés on black pepper crackers with a sliver of smoked salmon.
I also served a dish of pickled onions with a venison, rabbit and cranberry terrine from Healthy Living Market. The sweet and sour onions balanced the richness of the salmon and terrine. Don’t worry, if charcuterie or smoked salmon aren’t your things, these onions are also great on a cheese board, on burgers, with roast beef or on a ham sandwich.
- ¾ cup red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon pickling spice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 medium red onion, very thinly “Philly cut” preferably with a mandoline (see tip*)
- Stir vinegar, syrup, pickling spice salt and pepper in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over high heat and boil 2 minutes, stirring often.
- Place onion in a medium heat-proof bowl or measuring cup. Strain the hot vinegar mixture through a fine-mesh sieve over the onions, and toss with a fork. Discard the solids from the sieve. Let onions cool in the pickling liquid until room temperature, stirring every once in a while, about 30 minutes. Store onions in the liquid in the refrigerator up to 1 week.
*tip: Philly cut: I made this term up because as far as I know there is no culinary term for this style of cutting an onion. But I call it that because it’s the way fry cooks cut onions in Philadelphia for cheese-steaks. That means, peel, remove root, cut in half through the stem and root end. Cut into half moons parallel to the equator. When cut this way, the onion slices break down more easily when cooked.
As opposed to a French cut ( by the way, that is a real term that I didn’t make up) which is to peel, core, cut in half through the stem and root end. Cut in slices perpendicular to the equator. These stay together nicely when cooked and the size of the slices are consistent.