Can Jam: Sweet and Sour Pickled Red Onions

March 20, 2010(updated on August 30, 2021)


Once again, I’ve waited until the last possible moment to post my Tigress Can Jam recipe. Motivated by deadlines? Yes, that would be me.

Despite my lack of action, I actually have been thinking about what to make for weeks. I initially wanted to do a red onion and rhubarb chutney. I even had a few stalks of ruby red forced rhubarb (purchased for my April Grid contribution). However, I left it waiting a few days too long and the rhubarb puddled in the bottom of the crisper. I took it as a sign that fate wanted me to do a solo red onion condiment.


Last weekend, I bought several hefty red onions and have been gazing at them for the last seven days waiting to be moved. Wednesday (or thereabouts), I decided that I wanted to make something akin to a bread and butter pickle (I’m a sucker for the combination of sweet and puckery). Tonight I settled down on the floor in front of the stretch of bookshelves that hold the canning volumes, in order to cobble a recipe together.


I stole inspiration from Linda Ziedrich’s favorite bread and butter pickle recipe (did you see that Linda left a comment on Rurally Screwed recently? I am star struck!), while using the proportions and cooking guidelines for pickled onions from So Easy to Preserve. What I got was a gently hued, softly cooked, slightly sweet pickle that I cannot wait to heap on a burger or suck down with a mild, soft cheese.

Updated June 29, 2010: These pickles are amazing on salads, particularly one built on a base of spicy arugula. Just thought you should know.


4.20 from 5 votes

Sweet and Sour Pickled Red Onions

Servings: 4 Pints


  • 3 pounds of red onion trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pickling salt
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes


  • Prepare a canning pot and enough jars to hold 4 pints of pickled onions.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the sliced red onion and cook for four minutes. Drain and set aside.
  • Using the same pot in which you quickly cooked the onions, combine the brine ingredients. As soon as the salt and sugar are dissolved, add the red onions. Stir to combine and remove from heat.
  • Remove the jars from the canning pot. Fill with the onions and brine, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Use a wooden chopstick or the end of a wooden spoon to remove as many bubbles from the jars as is possible.
  • Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.
  • When the time is up, remove the jars and set them on a folded kitchen towel to cool. When the jars have cooled enough that you can comfortably handle them, check the seals. Sealed jars can be stored at room temperature for up to a year. Any unsealed jars should be refrigerated and used promptly.

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66 thoughts on "Can Jam: Sweet and Sour Pickled Red Onions"

  • Those look amazing! I just couldn’t get moved by pickled onions but I may copy that. I missed the deadline but I’ve been a little busy with putting up my 1/2 pig this week…pickled onions would be yummy next to some pulled pork.

  • This looks really tasty! I am curious though, do you make a brine with apple cider, (as written) or with apple cider vinegar?

  • Another Marisa, I know! I can’t wait for their resting period to end, so I can get to the business of eating them.

    Sustainable Eats, by all means! Copy away!

    Alison, thank you so much for catching that. I did mean apple cider vinegar. I wrote this post in my last conscious moments before bed and wasn’t as focused as I should have been.

  • This is something I would so LOVE LOVE LOVE! Must see if I can find some local red onions to make this.

  • How close to bread and butter did these turn out? Because the idea of pickled onions heaped on a burger is making my mouth water, but I’m not down with the B&B. I like my pickles tart.

  • Sounds yummy. Do you think it would work with the large sweet Florida onions that are coming along so nicely at this time of year?

  • All I’ve got this time of year is the tail end of last fall’s white storage onions. Do you think their strong flavor would overpower the brine too much? I gotta use ’em up!

  • My grandmother made a lot of bread and butters and taught me how. I am thinking of her technique and wondering, is there some reason why you wouldn’t just cook the onions in the brine rather than in water beforehand?
    Would they taste too strong?

  • First time poster! I subscribed to Food in Jars a few months ago because I want to try ‘putting up’ foods, and have been waiting for the right recipe to ‘move me’. Well, this is it!! I love that the onions are boiled first.

    I am wondering if I can use the cooking water drained from the onions as the 1/2 cup liquid required for the brine. One would assume that the nutrients extruded in the cooking process may survive in the cooking water, and serve to enrich the recipe.

    In your experience, would the cooking water add an off-taste?

  • I have been searching for a good recipe to use for Myoga (Japanese Ginger) and I gave this a try. Fingers crossed it tastes good.

  • I have had these on my “to do” list and just made them (they are cooling under the towel right now)! Tasted the last bits that didn’t fit in the jar (I got 3x 500 mL and 1x 250 mL with about 1 tablespoon left in the pot) and they are great! I used regular cider vinegar because that’s what I had. I will get some apple cider vinegar and give that a go too! Thanks!

  • Please remind people that 10 minutes in a canning bath is only a valid time for most pickles if they live at sea level. Times must be adjusted for altitude with all canning.

  • I’ve been looking through your recipes for a while, trying to decide which recipes to try. I unexpectedly have a 4 day weekend with nothing to do but clean house, and who wants to do that! Went to the Farmer’s Market and picked up the 3 lbs. of onions needed for this recipe, which sounds a lot like the onions my Mom used to make. Now if our power will come back on I’m gonna try a batch. Thanks for this and all of your delicious sounding recipes.

  • Made these with my sister-in-law earlier this week. They are wonderful! I plan to eat them on pizza, salads, burgers, and in paninis. 🙂 Thank you for another great recipe.

  • I just wanted to stop by and let you know that I made a big jar of these the other day and they are wonderful!! I reserved 1/2 a cup of the water that the onion cooked in and added that to the pickling. My onions are PINK. And so so delicious! I’ve been eating them on everything from crackers with cream cheese, sliders with pulled pork, and occasionally, straight from the jar. 😀 Thank you!

  • I JUST took these out of the hot water bath. Im so excited as this is my second time canning first time feeling like I can actually do it. How long before these have pickled nicely and are good to eat?

  • Could the sugar be left out, or is there a better recipe for non-sweetened pickled onions? I prefer my pickles tart all the way.

  • My son just gave me 150 lbs of red onions, I was wondeing what I was going to do with so many. I had pickled red onions once at Olive Garden on my salad and have never forgotten the taste. I’m going to give this a try. I have a question for you……do you have a good recipe for marinated mushrooms that can be put up via a hot water bath? My son also gave me 30 lbs of mushrooms and I am dehydrating some, but would like to pickle or marinate some. I did make some last year, they were ok but I felt the vinegar was a bit overpowering, although, everyone who tried them said they liked them. Hope you or one of your readers can help me out.
    Thank you,

  • Just stopped by to let you know I did make a huge batch of these and they are absolutely delicious. I used red wine vinegar, simply because that’s what I had on hand, and forwent the parboiling of the onions. I now have 24 half pints and 24 pints added to my pantry, they will go beautifully in my gift baskets this year. I had about 2 cups of brine left after all were put up so I sliced a couple more onions and added them to it. They stayed fairly crisp because I didn’t cook them, just put them in the hot brine. They were amazing on leftover pork roast sandwiches. Thank you so much for sharing. (decided just to dehydrate all the mushrooms I mentioned in previous post, but if you have a good recipe, I’d love to try it.)

  • Marissa I just wanted to let you know that I made this recipe twice. The first time I made it with the apple cider vinegar and for some reason I just dont like the taste of apple cider. My friends and familly liked it(Ended up giving away most of my batch to happy friends). The second time I made it I decided to use rice wine vinegar instead which is my prefered vinegar choice for vinegrettes and sauces. and WOW did it come out delicious. So sweet and not too bitter but still sour enough to be a pickle. My husband loved it also. Im on my last Jar. I did give some of this one away but was reluctant to give too many out it was so good lol. Im thinking of planting a pile of red onions this year and see if I can make some more. if onions dont do well I will buy a large pile of them just to make another large batch of these.

  • I would like to make this recipe too. If I wanted them to be a bit more spicy, what other spice could I add to the recipe? Don’t want them to burn going down so to speak, just kind of hot and spicy like.

  • Hi there! I just made this recipe yesterday (from the book, which is a bit different than the online version), and I have a question or maybe a problem…? I really packed the onion slices into the jars, and each jar was only able to take a tablespoon or two of brine. I tried pressing on the onions and poking them with a chopstick to release air, but it didn’t seem to help. I was left with a whole pint of brine that wouldn’t fit!

    So I’m wondering first, whether this is normal… and also if it’s still safe since they might not have the same vinegar-to-onion ratio as you’d expect. I saved the brine, so I could re-can them in more jars.

    In case it matters, I made six 1/2 pints instead of 3 pints. The recipe in the book says it makes 3 pints, but it calls for more water than the online version, which makes 4 pints. Maybe the book should have said it makes 4 pints?

    The onions I tasted out of the pot were great. Also, I really love your book. I got it from the library, but I’m planning on buying it since I like it so much. There are so many recipes I want to try!

    1. Hi Marisa,
      I love your Food in Jars book: so many great recipes. I made the version of these onions from the book. They were so delicious that I ate the whole batch in a month and when my CSA box delivered yet more red onions, I made another batch. I use them on bean salads, veggie dogs, cucumber salad, with cheese and crackers oh pretty much anything savory!
      Thank you so much for a terrific recipe!

  • hi Marisa,
    This recipe sounds great. Right now I only have access to the 4th burner pot that you recommended for canning so I was wondering if I put these in the half pint jars whether it would change the processing time or not? Thank you

  • I’ve tried this recipe and it turns out really tasty and actually very pretty! The onions start out a beautiful pale pink color when you jar the pickles. Over time (a few months) I found they turn paler in color.

    I like eating them with sandwiches, especially with BBQ. It’s also good as an accompaniment to roast pork. Would be great with hot dogs too.

  • hey! i just 2 1/2 timed the brine for my onions i cut, and instead of 10 pints, i got 6. too few onions perhaps? i figure it’s not a problem because of proportions of brine are the same. let me know if i should be concerned with what is turning out to be a delectable pickled onion– if fewer than i had hoped.

  • Hi Marisa,Just wanted to say thank you for a lovely and delicious pickled onion recipe!! My boyfriend and I put up 21 pints today!! The last time I made pickled onions ( not this recipe, but yours is truly awesome) I only made 8 pints and I asked Bruce where did all the pickled onions go? He said we ate them all! sooooooooo I made enough to last for awhile, Thanks again

  • Marisa, I started canning helping my Mom nearly 60 years ago. Took a hiatus for 10 years or so as a young adult and then began canning again. I’ve been following your blog for years. In fact I was a closet follower of the 2010 Can Jam. I’m always on the look out for some unique recipe to try. This year I decide to make canned and home made food gifts for my 3 girlfriends with spring birthdays. I was thinking about pickled red onions and gave this recipe a try. When I cut the onions I was scared because it seemed like so much onion and so little brine. But with the jars in the canner at this time, it all worked out perfectly. My dear husband and I tried a couple of pieces of leftover onion that didn’t make it into a jar and they taste amazing. Looking forward to gifting the finished product. Thanks for a terrific recipe.

  • Hi Marissa– I just saw a YouTube video where this preserve was made and I was eager to see if it was in my book so I didn’t have to come back here and print it. I’m surprised at the difference between the two and double-checked your Errata page, didn’t find anything about this recipe there so I assume you made the changes on purpose. From the comments, people really love this original recipe so I’m torn between which version you’d recommend making?

    1. Typically, if there is a difference between a recipe here on the blog and one in a book, you should look at the one in the book as the preferred, refined version.

      1. Awesome, thank you for the quick reply! I’ll be buying red onions today. Looking forward to the deliciousness!

  • I made these on a whim, not really expecting to like them that much because although I love onions, I can usually take or leave pickled onions. I had two giant red onions I needed to put to use and thought why not? They were super easy and though I still have to wait till tomorrow for the 48 hours, I tasted them from the pot and was amazed at how delicious they were! I saw it in the Canning and Preserving magazine where it was adapted from your cookbook. Thanks for a great recipe :).

  • I made these years ago when I first learned to can. Making them again today..Why did I wait so long ?

  • Marisa – I am planning on making some of these red onions up soon but had a question about the above recipe and the same one in your “Food in Jars” book. This recipe calls for 1/2 c of water to be added to the brine for 4 pints BUT the book calls for 1.5 cups of water for 3 pints, which seems off for the same amount of onions used (3 lbs onions.) Also, in this recipe you only 1 tbsp of salt and in the book 2 tbsp of salt. The recipe is identical otherwise so I was not sure if these two discrepancies would drastically alter the final canning results. I love your recipes and I am ready to try a new one out (and share it with my family.)

    1. The recipes in the books are always the best version of the recipe. I like the brine better with more water. This version was a bit strong for me.

  • 5 stars
    Is it necessary to thinly slice the onions? We like chunkier onion pieces, but not sure if this would affect the safety of the product? Perhaps increase the cooking time?
    I’ve made one recipe so far and we really enjoyed it.

    1. You can slice your onions as thick or thin as you’d like. It might take the more thickly sliced onions a little longer to reach full flavor, but that’s the only difference.

  • Excellent, thank you for your quick response!
    I simmered some chunky onions in leftover brine from your Maple Pickled Jalapenos. They were amazing but I needed something safe for canning – these are also great and very versatile.

  • Hey Marisa, I like my pickled onions to be pretty crunchy still (which is why I usually just do a quick pickle) but I’m wondering if you’ve ever tried this recipe as a raw pack. Thanks for any advice you might have to offer!

    1. I’ve never made this recipe as a raw pack. If you want crunch, you’re better off doing them as a quick pickle.

  • 5 stars
    Hi there,

    I made a recipe almost identical to this last night and I find that anytime I’ve made pickles when there is sugar in the brine that the next morning there are these little bubbles that look “alive” not dissimilar to kombucha bubbles. I haven’t done much pickling and so this is always confusing to me. My jars are all sealed. I can’t find anything about this online. Last time I just put those jars in the fridge in case there was some fermentation happening (they were delicious and just fine when I went to eat them a few weeks later) but I’m wondering if this is needed or if someone can explain what I’m seeing.

    1. Are the bubbles moving and active when the jar is sitting undisturbed? Because it’s normal for some bubbles to form in the brine. That’s not a sign of fermentation. It’s only fermenting if the bubbles are zipping around a still jar.

    1. Hi Carol. I’ve made this pickles a number of times and have always enjoyed them. Were you unhappy with the outcome? I’d love to hear more about why you gave this recipe a single star to see if I can’t help you find a method/recipe that would make you happier.

  • 5 stars
    Hello Marisa, I picked up The Food in Jars Kitchen a few days ago, but for the life of me, I cannot find the pickled red onions in the book. I did find this page, with an online version, but bought the book specifically for the enticing photo of the onions on the cover. Can you assist? Many thanks!

    1. Karen, I’m so sorry that you didn’t find the recipe you were looking for in that book! The Food in Jars Kitchen is a book about using up what you’ve already canned, so there aren’t a lot of preserving recipes in it. But this pickled red onion recipe is a good one and would work beautiful on toast.