Pickled Onions – Bits of heaven for an old Southern soul


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Pickled Onions, Pintos, and Mexican Cornbread on a 1970’s Corelle Spring Blossom Plate.

I’m going to start this post out with a disclaimer: half of you will hate even the thought of this recipe,  but the other half will take one bite and set about doing paperwork to rename all of your children after me.

Pickled onions are not for the novice who is new to Southern food. These are hardcore, for old school Southern tastebuds – but oh will they make those buds sing! Would you believe that I had them for the FIRST TIME this past weekend? We went to a restaurant in Nashville with the kids and they brought out a bowl of pickled onions and hot cornbread, still in the cast iron skillet it was cooked in. I reached for a wedge of cornbread and put it on my plate where I topped it with a spoonful of pickled onions. Not knowing what to expect but trusting the instinct of my Alabama roots, I dug my fork in to get a bite full of hot bread and onion….

…and tasted all that was reverent and good in the world of old fashioned soul food.

I started praying over the food right then and there. “Oh LORD! We thank you for this meal.” ~Shoveled another bite in~ “Dear God, thank you for this food that is so good, oh Lord it’s still warm and these onions are so crisp and sweet…” ~shoveled in another bite~ “We thank you so much for letting us take this trip and getting to spend this ..” ~reaches for more onions~ “time together!” After a moment, I just about started speaking in tongues, it was so good. But then I got to thinking that if I kept on describing it to God, He might just come down to join me and then I’d have to give Him most of it because, that is the only nice thing to do considering all of the exceptions and forgiveness he’s had to pipe out on my account. I paused and noticed that my kids and husband were just looking at me, blank faced.

I encouraged them to eat.

One child took a timid bite of the spicy cornbread and put it down. “That tastes weird.” My husband waved his hand over the plate “I’m just not into that kind of stuff, you can have mine.” My other child just continued watching me in disbelief and looking at the cornbread trying to figure out if I saw something he didn’t.

Apparently, I did. Oh good gravy, it was amazing!

As soon as we left the restaurant I called Mama and Grandmama and by the time I was home I had a recipe.

My husband came in yesterday while I was cooking a big pot of pintos (definitely not one of his favorites, he won’t even eat them) and said “What is that SMELL?” Note that this was said in the tone that let you know he left out “horrible” before smell because he knows it will get him killed. ~sighs~ I get that a lot from him. Bless his heart, he doesn’t know any better. He’s good hearted but terribly uncultured when it comes to  an appreciation for po’ folk food.

“Pintos” I replied “If you don’t like that you might wanna hurry back to work because I’m about to get some cider vinegar boiling.” You’ve never seen a man eat lunch so fast in all your life. I made up a quick pan of Mexican cornbread (my mama’s recipe is in my first cookbook) and come suppertime I had a spread so good it’s a wonder my ancestors didn’t rise up from the grave at the smell of it!

My husband texted “Do I need to stop and get anything on the way home?” That is his code for: are you going to serve that stuff I smelled earlier for supper?

 I texted back “Well I made a big pot of pintos, mexican cornbread, and pickled onions for supper – so you might wanna grab takeout for you and the kids :”

Sometimes we gotta do what we gotta do.

These onions are heavenly. I sent a pint jar of them to my 81 year old Grandmother yesterday along with a quart jar of pintos. She called at 5 this morning. “Did you try it yet Grandmama?”

“LORD Yes! Done had me two bowls! That was the best stuff. Lord oh that was so good. You fixin’ to put that recipe up on your website?”

“Yes Grandmama, I’m putting it up today!”

You’ll need: Salt, Garlic Powder, Black Pepper, about 4 sweet onions (Preferably Vidalia), Cider Vinegar*, and Sugar

You can use white vinegar instead of Cider so if you prefer the taste of white, I’d recommend you go with that instead. I want to try them with white next time but I did love the extra little tang cider vinegar gave it.

You see my Kosher salt up there? My friend Jyl turned me onto that a year or so ago and I’ve fallen madly in love with it. It really does taste amazing and it doesn’t cost a lot, so it’s an easy switch. I still use regular old iodized salt, too, but am using Kosher more and more these days out of personal preference.

Soapbox time! Whenever you make a change in your cooking or eating habits, do it out of personal choice rather than some ad campaign or a zealot on the internet telling you that you have to. There is big business in buying and selling opinions out there so just be careful that you don’t ever feel the need to adopt anyone else’s personal convictions because they bullied you into doing so.

~tucks soap box away~

In a medium saucepot, place vinegar, sugar, salt, and garlic powder.

Stir that up well and put over medium high heat to bring it just to a boil while you cut up your onions…

Keep a watch on it and stir it often.

Peel your onions and slice them into rings.

I cut my rings in half, too, to make them easier to eat.

You could even dice them if you want.

It’s your kitchen, you’re a big boy/girl,  and the only rules are the ones you decide to make :)

Oooh look! Our cider mixture is boiling! Now, if you or anyone you know has their sinuses stuffed up, alls ya gotta do is invite them into your kitchen and have them stir this pot :) Actually, cider vinegar is an old folk remedy for many an affliction.

But if someone decides onions are outselling a vegetable they represent they are liable to launch a pr campaign talking about how onions are causing brain damage or some such. Sadly, that really is how this works most of the time.

Remove pot from heat.

Dump your onions in and stir them to coat.

At first, it will seem like there are way too many onions but just let them sit for about five minutes and they will wilt a bit.

Like this. Now stir that again and let sit just a few minutes more.

Until they look kinda like this. Now place all of these in a container and cover it to put in your fridge.

If you do not cover it, your sinuses will clear each and every time you open your fridge, which is good or bad depending on how stuffed up you are :) Come to think of it, maybe this is a good springtime recipe in the south when our world is coated in that lovely yellow dust…

Voila! My refrigerated onions all ready to make my stomach happy!

These are wonderful served as a side or as a topping on beans, hot cornbread, etc.

Just git ya some!

Pickled Onions – Bits of heaven for an old Southern soul
  • 4 medium sized sweet onions (such as Vidalia)
  • 2 cups Cider Vinegar (can use white vinegar)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt (I use kosher)
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  1. Place all ingredients except onions into sauce pot over medium high heat. Bring just to a boil while stirring often.
  2. While cider is coming to a boil, peel onions and slice into rings. Separate each ring.
  3. When mixture comes to a boil remove from heat and add in onions. Stir and allow to sit for five minutes,or until onions have wilted down into vinegar some. Stir again and let sit for another five minutes.
  4. Place in container, cover, and refrigerate until well chilled and ready to serve. Serve as a side relish or a topping on pinto beans, cornbread, etc.


A GREAT BIG THANK YOU to everyone who takes the time out of your day to chat with me in the comments. Getting to hear back from you is my favorite part of Southern Plate!

Do you have any memories of pickled onions? How often did you dine on beans and cornbread growing up (it was weekly at least at my house)? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, or just drop a Hidy! 



It requires less character to discover the faults of others

than is does to tolerate them.

~J. Petit Senn


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  1. Carrie F says

    We had Great Northern Beans and Corn Bread tonight for dinner. My Hubby puts fresh cut onions on his beans but I don’t. Your pickled onions sound sooo
    good. Think I’ll fix some tomorrow. I think I might like those on my beans.
    All of your post are so interesting and sometime I swear I can smell the food.

  2. Diane says

    I can’t wait to make the pickled onions. I read your post to my hubby and his mouth was watering before I got finished. He kept saying “MAKE SOME, MAKE SOME” !! I guess tomorrow, I’m going to go get some sweet onions and make some! Thanks for posting this recipe Christy, you are awesome!

  3. Angel says

    I just made these today and let me tell you….I could have eaten the whole lot of them by myself! Even my husband who doesn’t like onions said they were pretty good!!! They truly are “bits of Heaven”!!!!!!

  4. Marcia says

    I had something like this at a local soul food/southern restaurant a few weeks ago. The owner included a few thinly sliced carrots and it was so delicious on top of the field peas! She called hers Onion Medley. I want to try your recipe soon!! It sounds so simple and I know it will be wonderful.

    Do you know how long this might last in the refrigerator in case the entire batch doesn’t get consumed at the first sitting?

  5. Sheila says

    I love this recipe but I never take the time to heat the brine. I quarter and slice a sweet onion(kept in fridge cause I love the crispness) into a small bowl. Grind on some garlic pepper.Add1/4 cup sugar then dump in enough cider vinegar to cover.Give a good stir to dissolve sugar then give it the pinkie test. Rarely lasts long enough to go in the fridge..love it with everything..Yesterday I added diced tomato and a spoon or two of Hellmans to the bowl then dumped it over iceburg lettuce,shredded cheese and diced deli ham.You talk about a good lunch..woohoo..Love ya Christy…keep up the great work..be well and Blessed

  6. Diane says

    I made these tonight, because I really wanted to try them. They sounded wonderful and indeed they are wonderful. So quick and easy and so so good. I can’t wait to use them on something, but I think they may just get eaten as they are, because they are so good. I didn’t wait for them to cool off, they were just too good.

    I love your website and your stories. I am so happy to have found you!!

  7. Debra Dian Turner says

    Oh my gosh, this is a staple in our house; fabulous food. i was introduced to the delights of pintos (red beans my hubby calls them) when we moved from Kansas to Texas. We did not eat pintos, black eyes or purple hulls, those were fed to the vdairy cattle. I will never forget my grandad coming by train to Houston a year after my daddy died, he was coming to check on his girl, our Momma, and her girls, the six of us kiddos. I made a big ole pot of pintos and a big cast iron skillet of cornbread for our supper.( My gosh, when we got to Texas we figured out that all the food worth eatin was in the south!)
    When grandad got to the house, he asked “what’s that I smell?” Taking the lid off that big pot of pintos, he looked in horror at my mom and said ” Gawd Amighty Gretta (momma) if I’d know things was this bad ida come sooner” He sure thought we were having to eat cattle food! We had a great neighbor who took us poor yankees( she practically spat that word out lol) under her wing and taught us all about snkickerdoodles, sweet tea, chicken and dressin, pickled onions(always in her ice box) and fried bologna, she was originally from Tennessee and by golly she could do things with bologna that would boggle the mind, and tickle your taste buds. she would always have a big “spread” on her table “cause people don’t come here to my house to dine, they come to EAT” her name was Mrs Stewert and she made life so much better for us..she “practically dopted all of ya’ll” a true southern lady full of southern hospitality

  8. Nicole Trout says

    This sounds so yummy!! All about onions with my beans and since I add a splash of apple cider into my bowl typically this will take that step out.. Why haven’t I thought of this before!! Thanks again for all you do Christy!! Now back to your cookbook and planning the meals for the week :) much love from the Smokies!!

  9. Susan N says

    So yummy Christy! It is along the same lines of several other marinated vegs, the one with “can can” in the title where you put in green peas, regular or shoepeg corn, green beans then the onion celery carrot. also opt: sweet or spicy pepper pieces. If you ever get your hands on some small spicy fresh peppers, you can save the tall skinny bottles and stuff in the peppers, top with apple cider vinegar and microwave for a few seconds……….the color will stay nice in the bottle of peppers. Our family always used not just plain vinegar, loved pepper vinegar to douse on cooked greens and beans. Girl, you are keeping the south in our mouth!

  10. Denise Robison says

    Please don’t prevent us from copying your recipes. This is the second one I wanted and was unable to paste and copy. It seems to me copying is the nicest form of flattery. Please change. Thank you. Denise

    • says

      I haven’t altered any of the settings that would allow you to do that, Denise. Maybe check your computer or try another way to highlight it?
      You can also click “print this recipe” and even if you don’t have a printer, it just opens up a new window with the recipe only :)

  11. Dinah says

    First time I had these was at Top O’ The River in Guntersville, AL. This is a great restaurant with a wonderful view of Lake Guntersville. They bring out to the table small pans of cornbread, bowls of pickled onions and tin cups of cole slaw. Lord, I ’bout ate my weight in this, forgetting about the huge meal of shrimp and catfish I had just ordered. So, I had a doggy box that night. The appetizers were better than the meal!

  12. JennV says

    My Mama has always pickled onions with cucumbers and they are just about the only summer pickles that we eat regularly. She does the hot brine but adds some pickling spice in the mix. I’m definitely going to try your way next!

  13. Teresa Rogers says

    I loved the pickled onions at Top of the River in Gadsden. They were so
    Good I had to find the recipe. Going to make some for diner tonight. They
    Will go so good with baked chicken. Thank you for sharing the recipe.

  14. Monica says

    I can’t wait to try your recipe for pickled onions. But I just have to comment on your plate. My mom has the exact same plates. They bring back so many childhood memories. She recieved them as a wedding gift in 1971. She still uses them today. Gotta love the durability of Corelle and of course in family tradition I received some when I got married.

  15. Sylvia J says

    I have made these twice and have anxiously waited for our Walla Walla local onions. Canʻt buy your vidalias. Now, wouldnʻt I heat them up again in order to do some canning? I need to preserve these little darlings.

  16. David S. says

    Sweet memories, the smell of the pinto beans cooking and my grandmother making pickled onions. She loved the red onion or mexican onion because of the that little flavor bite that doesn’t come through with sweet onions. And last but not least the Jalapeno cornbread served with the beans. Thanks for the trip down memory lane and resurrecting some great kitchen smells of when she was cooking the beans and preparing the onions. I love your recipes and your great sense of humor.

  17. Cleo M. Jones says

    Christy, I just today found your website, what a wonderful discovery. I am from Alabama also so I can see already that we have tastes in common.
    This is how I found you. The other day I was hungry for a Reuben sandwich so I went out and bought all the fixins including a jar of sauerkraut. I was thinking what else I could make with it although I am not above eating it all by itself right out of the jar. I thought of kraut and weenies, something I haven’t had in ages. I googled a recipe to be sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. I hadn’t, just weenies and kraut! The recipe was on your site.
    I enjoy your comments about po’ folks food. I grew up on a farm in North Alabama. We certainly were not well off. We had pintos and cornbread and fried potatoes often. I also remember sweet rice for breakfast and for supper side dish. One of my favorite things was wilted lettuce. (leaf lettuce from the garden, sliced scallions, crumbled bacon, with the hot bacon grease poured over it all with cornbread. Yum! We ate squirrel and dumplins, fried perch and hushpuppies. I list these because as po’ folks, we caught our own, we didn’t buy it at the grocery store. Mother always raised a garden. Green beans, corn, okra, cucumbers, beets, carrots, lettuce, onions, radishes, squash. We canned everything we didn’t eat in the summer, so even though we were poor, we ate well.
    I am making these pickled onions tomorrow as soon as I can go to the store for sweet onions. I have had them before but not in a long time. Thanks for reminding me of them. Mother never made them at home. She liked her onions raw, often in a leftover biscuit from breakfast. She claimed that the fish would bite better when she spit her onion breath on the worm!

    • Dorothy Dunton says

      Wilted lettuce salad is SO good! A lot of people do not even know what it is, much less understand how good it is! If you were lucky there might be a pot of pinto beans with a ham hock ticked inside! Heaven on earth!

  18. Bill Gromer says

    I was so excited to see this recipe for pickled onions. We were from the south and my mom and dad would have this occasionally and we would all eat up except for my sister who would turn her nose up at it. I’ve been without it for about 35 years so tonight I’m fixing it . Got the Pinto beans about ready and fired up the Vinegar mixture, much to my wife’s chagrin. Mexican cornbread in the oven as I write.

    Question: my wife said I should drain out all the vinegar mixture before I put in the fridge. It wasn’t in your directions, so I told my Northern wife to ‘bag it’. Do you drain it??

  19. Eva Nettles Buck says

    We had pintos and cornbread as a side dish at least with every meal because I had a sister who was a picky eater and she would eat that. We didn’t “pickle” our onions per se but we did always put them in vinegar & water (1:1) without sugar or heating it on the stove, I don’t even think we put salt & pepper on them. We did cucumbers the same way but we did salt & pepper the cucumbers. Sometimes we would mix them together. I love anything pickled. I’m going to make these today. If I had any cucumbers I would go ahead and add them to it but I don’t. Thanks for this idea. I love it!

  20. Erin says

    Hey Christy,
    I have a question for you. My husband bought 50# of onions, and 10# of garlic just for me to make this for him. My question is, about how long would you can them for, and I’m assuming water bath is the way you would can them? He also wanted me to add peppercorn and pickling spices to each jar, I’m thinking I may do some that way, but some the way listed above. Your advice is greatly appreciated, thanks.

  21. Sandra Anderson says

    I made these yesterday and my family put them in our traditional “Customize Your Own Tortilla roll ups”.
    They add the perfect crunch and the sharp onion bite is mellowed out and DELICIOUS!!!
    Thank you so much for all you share with us.

  22. Sherri Roberts says

    Have made pickled onions from your recipe several times. My family loves them! They are much better than Top of the River’s onions. I fixed some last night & my 21 year old daughter was eating them out of the boiler, before they had cooled! Delicious! We eat them with everything. Also, we are from Anniston, Alabama! Love your site!

  23. Milo says

    From my Danish heritage – we pickle everything – the contents of the pickle jar after the pickled cucumbers are gone can be used to make a pretty good pickled onion.

    Just cut up onions, put in pickle jar, put pickle jar in microwave and wave cook for 3 – 4 minutes. Microwaves vary, pickling liquid should have boiled, onions should just have turned translucent but should still be crunchy crisp. These pickles should be kept refrigerated.

    My favorite is bread and butter pickled onion.

  24. Marilyn says

    I have made these by your recipe and loved them! Do you know anybody that has canned them? Would you just put them in sterile jars and then place them in a hot water bath for about 15 minutes?

  25. Joyce Smythe says

    OH Christy, Christy!! Just made these and they are fabulous!! I just keep munchin every time I pass by the bowl they are cooling in.. lol.. I have never had them before . I always cut up fresh onion on my beans or had old fashioned chow chow on them. But these are far less expensive to prepare than chow chow and so much better tasting! But I believe next time, I will use much less black pepper.. I dont care for hot and these have a zing to them. I used cider vinegar, which I think gives a much better flavor to them. Thanks for the recipe! Now I am anxious to see how dear hubby likes them..,. :)

  26. Josey says

    It does my heart good to read that mine is not the only family who is too picky to eat Mommy’s good cookin’. They’re food preferences are soooo boring and limited. Likes yours, no beans, onions, peppers, canned or cooked tomatoes, etc. I love the pickled onions and am the only one who’ll eat them. Oh well! :)

  27. Cindy says

    Girl, onions are one food that I eat every day! When Vidalia Onions are in season, I can eat a whole one with a meal! Our local fish camp serves pickled onions that are wonderful with hush puppies while you wait for your fish to be ready. Give me a pot of pintos, fried cabbage, cornbread, and onions and I am in hog heaven!

  28. Kathy K. says


    When I was little, we had steak, pintos, or pink beans, and mashed potatoes about 5 days a week. One brother doesn’t believe me when I said I was 9 before we had chicken and I had to ask her what fried chicken was, and she said she didn’t think I’d like it. Boy, was she wrong on that one! He said they had it all the time. Not by the time I came along.

    Pops was a cattleman, so we always had plenty of beef, and NO liver, except for him, once in a while. Ma didn’t like it and said she couldn’t try to force me to eat something she couldn’t eat. How lucky can you get?

    He liked his steak broiled, and well done. I like mine rare and cooked over charcoal, or in a cast iron skillet. He always looked at my steak and said something like “I could have given that a shot of penicillin and it would have LIVED;” or, “it’s still moving on the plate.” That’s when I managed to get a properly rare piece and not a cremated one like his.

    I never got tired of the beans, or mashed potatoes-which I can’t have anymore, but I got tired of the steak. I’d eat something else, and he’d get mad, saying someday, you’ll want a steak and can’t have it. “Yeah, but that doesn’t help me now.”

    One brother would eat all the meat, then all the beans, then all the potatoes. He would never put any combination of the three on his fork, and heaven help us if they touched on his plate!

    He loved cornbread, so do I, but not with “stuff” in it, just plain. The others were sort of neutral on it so we always had store bought bread. My mother skipped any recipe that said “yeast” or “knead” and didn’t teach me, and Home Ec did not help-not enough instructions. It bugged me that I didn’t know how, so I taught myself from bread books.

    I am going to try your pickled onion recipe for sure. I agree with you about the food PR on the ‘net. I have started eating Bok Choy because I like it and I can have it, and I keep running into “why you should never eat Bok Choy” articles on the ‘net-which I am totally ignoring. 8)

      • Kathy K. says

        He was right. We only had steak once a week, on Saturday night, in college, and it (or the fish), were the only things you couldn’t get seconds of-unless you paid for it. They gave you a ticket when you came in the door, and collected it when you made your dinner choice. Nobody missed supper on Saturday night, AKA “steak night.” I still don’t regret eating the cheese sandwiches instead of the overdone broiled steak though. 8)

  29. Lydia says

    Hi Christy , Mmmm , these onions sound so good. I am going to try these real soon. I love onions raw, pickled, fried.. you name it. I was just wondering , alot of the comments were mentioning eating beans , pinto or other kinds. I never have and have no idea how to cook them. The only way I have had them is canned red kidney beans in my chilli. Can you please send me a recipe for your Pinto beans you are talking about with your Corn Bread? Thanks again…

  30. Joe in N. Calif. says

    Sourdough bread, 2 slices lightly buttered.
    Cheddar cheese – I like a couple of thick slabs, but thin slices work, just so you cover all of one slice of bread.
    Top the cheese with pickled onions.
    Put other slice of bread on top of that.

    Enjoy with your favorite beverage (beer, sweet tea, Coke).


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