I have made this recipe several times tweaking and perfecting as I go. I was just given an inside tip to use dark brown sugar and sherry vinegar so you may see a reincarnation of this delicious marmalade sometime in the future. It is delicious when paired with creamy goat’s cheese and thyme and even better on a freshly grilled hamburger or steak sandwich. It is fairly easy to make so be sure to include a jar at your 4th of July picnic this year and don’t be surprise if it is the first empty dish on the table.

William Merritt Chase, Just Onions (Onions; Still Life), 1912
Oil on wood panel, 53.34 x 65.25 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

This is my second post featuring a still life by William Merritt Chase and like the first painting, Still Life with Pepper and Carrot, his work Just Onions is painted on a dark background in a pseudo-impressionist style with close attention paid to variations in tone. Chase applies the same loose brushwork to represent a wide array of tactile textures from the smooth china to the papery skin of the onion. This fairly modern mode of representation was passed on to his students and can be found in the work of Marsden Hartley with his loose blocks of colour and in the emotive qualities of tonal variation by Georgia O’Keeffe.

Traditionally marmalade is made with citrus fruit. In the UK, marmalade is sweet with a bitter tang and is made by boiling citrus peel with water and sugar. The US version is sweet and not bitter. The Romans discovered the preserving process used by the Greeks to set quince fruit in honey. The word marmalade is derived from the French word marmelade which was in turn borrowed from the Portuguese marmelada (marmelada from the root word marmelo meaning “quince”) (2). Modern marmalade was allegedly invented in the 1790s in Scotland when a woman named Janet Keiller sought to find a way to use up a batch of Seville oranges. In Europe by law, only preserves made of citrus fruit may be called marmalade (3) so watch out if you make this in the UK!

{William Merritt Chase’s Red Onion Marmalade}

adapted from How to Cook by Lesley Waters
serves 8

2 TB olive oil
4 red onions, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/4 c brown sugar
3 TB balsamic vinegar
1/3 c red wine
1/3 c red wine vinegar
grated zest and juice of one orange
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onions, bay leaf, and thyme. Season with the salt and pepper and then cover with the lid and cook over a low heat for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally and the onions are done when they are soft and translucent.

Add
the sugar, vinegar, red wine, zest, and orange juice. Cook for another 1.5 hours uncovered stirring quite often during the last half hour. Cook until there is no liquid left and the onions are dark with a rich red colour.

Cool the mixture and then transfer to a sterilized jar (a jar that has been put in a saucepan of water, brought to a boil for 10 minutes and drained on paper towels). The marmalade will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator (if it sticks around for that long!).

Delicious when used as a filling for an onion tart with some fresh thyme and goat cheese or as a topping on a hamburger. Also good with cold meats and cheeses.