Sweet and Sour Onions and an Eccentric Pea Soup

Pea soup and the sweet and sour onions on cheese just before I added the top slice of bread.

The onions from last year’s harvest are keeping very well in the cellar way, and among them a couple of reds.  I favor a sort called Copra, a golden-skinned little number which seems to like growing here, and keeps well for me. The reds are the rosy pink Rossa Di Milano. I expect reds to get soft this time of year, and so it was helpful that my island neighbor Linda Gillies brought by a jar with sweet and sour red onions in it, along with the recipe.

The recipe’s original writer intended that you add the onions to grilled cheese sandwiches. I did that, but I kept thinking how these onions would go really well with sautéed chicken, or as a garnish for cream soup, or added to sautéed greens. Or, piled on cream cheese for cheese and crackers. The list goes on.

I served a homemade pea soup with the grilled cheese and onion sandwiches. Now, this is the time of year when I look in the freezer and think, I’d better eat that because I will have new stuff coming in. Since I am four months away from a new crop of peas, the frozen ones, now about eight months old, need to be dinner and lunch pretty darn soon. As it happened, a couple evenings ago I made scalloped potatoes, and I steamed up some peas to go with a piece of pork we had. There were a couple of tablespoons of peas left over, and I added them to the pan that had the potatoes in them to store overnight.

Next morning, I spooned some the potatoes out of the pan and fried them as home fries. That still left leftovers with a few peas rolling around. A trip to the freezer revealed a pint of peas that I had actually labeled as best for soup; took them out and heated them, and had the sudden idea of tossing the potatoes in, too, and the stray peas, then heaving it all into the food processor to make a kind of cream of pea soup. I added a little broth, some grated onion, and a sprinkle of cumin and red pepper flakes. Pretty tasty. Just don’t ask for a recipe.

Here, however, is how to do the onions. P.S. I don’t see why you can’t use yellow onions for this.

Sweet and Sour Onions

1 large onion or 2 medium red or yellow onions

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon brown sugar


1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar


Slice the onions thinly. Melt the butter together with the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook them for about five minutes until they soften. Add the brown sugar and salt and continue to cook, stirring occasionally for another five to ten minutes until the onions are completely softened. They will darken somewhat. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook briefly until the onions are reduced in quantity and glossy. Cool and store until you serve them.

Makes about three-quarters to one cup.

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.