Christmas kitchen – red onion marmalade


There’s a timely article in the paper today about foods to eat to help keep the winter blues at bay once the clocks go back. Oily fish, green vegetables and onions feature highly.

I’ve blogged about making red onion marmalade before and on a chilly Autumn day in October I like to have something to show for my time when I can’t make much headway in the garden. There are bulbs to plant, weeds to hoe and pruning to be done but the soil is so cold and wet that I’m loathe to trample piles of soil all over the lawn and the terrace ( I use the terms ‘lawn’ and ‘terrace’ in their loosest sense!).

This October’s red onion marmalade is 2 kilos of red onions sweated down for 45 minutes over a low heat with 140g butter , a good slug of olive oil (about 4 tbsp), a generous tbsp of fresh thyme leaves, a small handful of dried chilli flakes, salt, black pepper, 140 g muscovado sugar and a spoonful of ground gloves. Once the onions are soft to the touch (they should break easily if you press them with a spoon) add a 75cl bottle of cheap red wine, 350ml of red wine vinegar and 200ml port. Simmer over the heat until 2/3rds of the liquid has evaporated. Cool slightly and then pot into sterilised jars.

They should  be stored in the larder or a cool, dark cupboard where they will keep well for three to six months, by which time they will be long gone and you’ll need to make another batch. By Christmas it will be yumsome. I’m going to add some to a food parcel for my eldest who is away at Uni and mentioned ‘home cooking’ at least four times in his weekly phone call home yesterday.

The gentle art of preservation

I think I planted a few too many of these this year and have limited space in my garden shed/veg store. What’s a girl to do when she has a stall at a Christmas Fayre to stock and an overwhelming desire to stay indoors? Red onion marmalade , of course.

The health benefits of  onions in improving the circulation, relaxing muscles, reducing cholesterol and even preventing cancer are well-documented and red ones are particularly good.  What you may not know is that rubbing raw onion on burns or insect bites brings relief  – although I prefer the sweeter smelling aloe vera plant for this. And even crying whilst chopping onions helps to release harmful toxins from the body. What’s not to love – provided that you’re not doing a lot of intensive kissing, of course?

Chutney and marmalade making is highly therapeutic. In fact, it’s as valuable a part of my workshops with sufferers of post-natal depression as the outdoorsy bit.  All that rhythmic chopping and stirring whilst watching the world go by can’t fail to improve your mood. And  having something to show for your labours which is beautiful to look at and sustaining over the Winter months is part of the deal.

Here’s how to while away an hour or two steaming up the kitchen windows on a rainy day and leave yourself with a shelf full of jewelled pots of goodness for the months ahead.


10 – 12 large red onions, thinly sliced
6 teaspoons olive oil or butter
450g muscovado sugar
100 ml red wine vinegar
550ml cheap balsamic vinegar
a few cloves, sprig of rosemary, 4 fresh bay leaves, 2 cinammon sticks ,  salt and freshly ground pepper


In a large preserving pan, heat the oil or butter. Add the red onions, bay leaves, rosemary,and cinammon sticks and cook over moderate heat for about 25 mins or until the onions begin to caramelise.

Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar and stir vinegar into the pan with the cloves. Increase the heat and stir often, until most of the liquid has evaporated,. Remove the herbs and spices. Season to taste with salt and pepper and pot in sterilised jars.

Makes about 12 small – medium jars.  Keeps for 3 months

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