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Harry's Tales: Pickled Onions

Harry Wroth tells us his method of pickling onions.

I have a grandson, Hein, who at the age of five years decided he was going to help me to "top and tail" pickling onions as I had bought a 10 Kg packet of small onions. I was doing this on our little back stoep while smoking a cigarette when he arrived.

I provided him with a carving board and a not-so-sharp little knife and away we went on the pocket of pickling onions. Within a few minutes his eyes were tearing. "Is dit die uie?"** I asked him. Back came the tearfully sharp retort, "Dit is Oupa se rook!".

I took him to the bathroom and let him rinse his face. He was back at the onions in a flash. I told him to keep his distance from the onion cutting and asked him, "What are you going to do if your eyes start tearing again?". "Ek was net my gesig!" he responded. Determined little big man this!

Over the years I have pickled scores of packets of pickling onions in this fashion. An old marine engineer from Glasgow, Scotland, gave me the success clue. Take a bucket of seawater and in a larger plastic container, add and dissolve, ordinary salt until a fresh egg floats. One can use a fresh clean potato instead of a fresh egg. The resultant brine solution will be the same as butchers use when pickling meat. Do not peel the little onions, merely cut off the tops and bottoms and immerse the whole lot under brine for at least 36 hours and not more than a week. When ready, pop them out of their skins without using a knife and without washing, place them directly into sterilised pickling bottles having added chilli, peppercorns (black or green), bay leaves and a must, one whole Allspice (Pimento).

Alternate spice mixture is whole coriander and whole cloves. Do not forget one whole allspice. This alternate spicemix has a milder sensation on the palate.

Fill the pickle bottles with either neat white or brown vinegar. The pickled onions will be ready for quaffing after ten days and will have a shelf life of several years. No heat, no tears, no fuss. Whenever I enjoy "hot" pickles, curry or English mustard I get a prickly sensation on the top of my head.

I bought the miniature chilli, smack in the middle of the lower half of the Kruger Park. A resident camp minder had planted out a small garden about ten metres square. The garden was surrounded by a low dry thorn tree branch hedge and immediately within that was a very low hedge of these dwarf chilli to keep the herbivores away. He was growing spinach, carrots and tomatoes within the enclosure. The fresh spinach made a delightful change to our usual Kruger fare and our chilli supply will last several more years.

Some of the spinach was used as a steamed vegetable on the evening of purchase. The next night I made "Wateruintjie"** stew with " 'n lang sous"** using fresh spinach and lemon juice instead of sorrel and one or two cans of water lily buds. Rice and potatoes completed the dish. Variety in the Park includes variety on the table!

The next day we saw an African Wild Cat. It was slightly larger but looked like a domestic ginger-striped marmalade cat. We were experiencing the tail end of a severe drought that had lasted several years and there was virtually no grass. Visibility through and under the bush was excellent. The carnivores were having an easy time but the poor herbivores were battling to survive.

This visit to the Kruger became known to us as "The Year of the Cats". That night, back in Satara camp at the wash-up house (or kitchen) I was chatting to a lady who was camping nearby and I mentioned the sighting of the African Wild Cat. She casually said " I knew you would see it, I've been feeding it through the fence for the past few nights." I hid my disappointment at this statement. Unwittingly she had spoilt what would have been, my perfect day. I wish people will stick to the rules and not feed animals in the Park. Animals will only do what nature dictates but man seems to delight in abusing privilege.

** Translation of text "Is it the onions?" I asked him. Back came the tearfully sharp retort, "It is Granddad's smoke!" "What are you going to do if your eyes start tearing again?". " I'll just wash my face!" he responded. Wateruintjie ......buds of a kind of water lily (Aponogeton Diastychon) 'n lang sous ...... plenty of gravy


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