I am on the precipice of a love affair with mustard yellow.
It started in Spain. I got hooked on the idea of going home with a sunny-colored watch, and on our last day in Haro, I spied a square-faced yellow number—something to be worn as an accessory, rather than out of habit.
Since then, I’ve worn it cautiously, but my annual shopping pilgrimage to Freeport, Maine with my mother-in-law last week encouraged me that if there’s any time in my life to embrace a color that society so deeply dislikes when it’s out of favor, it’s now. There is yellow everywhere.
Wearing mustard yellow requires a deep commitment, which can be challenging, especially if, as is the case with me, it is under no circumstances to be worn near the face.
For roughly the next three months, you’ll be able to recognize me by my new yellow corduroy skirt, or by the yellow belt I just got for my birthday, which sort of makes me look like I got in a fight with a hot dog vendor with very precise aim.
But here’s my big secret: I don’t actually like the taste of mustard all that much.
It’s okay if you disagree. I hear mustard can be pretty good. But aside from salad dressings, sauces where it’s not so detectable, or the occasional sandwich smear—or when its application is beyond my immediate control—I don’t really eat it. I put ketchup on my hot dogs. (My neighbor Bob says that makes me un-American, simply un-American.) I’m happy with plain pretzels. I eat my pate with just the pickles.
But sandwiches! Sandwiches are a problem. I’m not a huge fan of mayonnaise, either—not because I don’t like eating it, but because it’s one of the few foods I feel guilty eating if it’s not homemade—which means that when I get a loaf of dry bread, like the whole wheat sourdough I picked up last week, I can’t make a quick sandwich without either drinking a lot or getting very creative very quickly.
So over the weekend, when I went on my very first canning binge, I concocted jars upon jars of sweet pickled red onions made with mustard seeds—they’re addictive enough to eat right out of their brine, but spread on sandwiches, they add not only bite, but also the perfect amount of extra moisture. They’re soft enough to bite through, so you won’t pull them out from between the meat and the bread with your teeth, but still firm enough to give a sandwich some extra crunch. They have a touch of mustard’s spice, but none of whatever it is about it that offends me.
And, as it turns out, they’re also great on sausages. Better than mustard, even, if you ask me. And the juices look way better with my skin.
Since you’ll be slicing up five pounds of onions, consider borrowing a mandoline slicer, which makes the process go much, much faster, and moving the whole operation outdoors, which cuts down on the eye stinging.
The onions are ready to eat right when they cool because they’re softened ahead in the vinegar brine, but you’ll have extra brine leftover. Instead of throwing it away, use it to make refrigerator pickles: bring it back to a boil and pour it over fresh, clean baby carrots, green or yellow wax beans, or cooked, sliced beets, and refrigerate for a few days before eating.
This recipe makes enough for 8 pints pickled onions, but you can do whatever combination of large and small jars works for you and your canning set-up.
TIME: 30 minutes, plus canning
MAKES: 8 pints
2 cups sugar
10 cups apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
5 pounds red onions, cut into 1/8” slices with the grain
Combine the sugar, vinegar, and salt in a large pot and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally as the sugar dissolves. Place the onions in a large bowl (or two), pour the vinegar mixture over the top, and let sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In each (squeaky-clean) canning jar, place a few dill blossoms, a few peppercorns, and a big pinch of mustard seeds. When the onions have softened and turned bright pink, stuff each jar full. Add the brine until it comes to 1/4” from the rim. Wipe rims, add lids, and process (20 minutes once the water returns to a boil).