This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
Bill Howell’s 9 Spice Pickled Onion recipe features sweet Palmer-grown onions, apple cider vinegar and nine top-secret spices — but that’s about all he will say.
“You can determine what several of the spices are by looking at the jar, but the exact combination is a trade secret,” Howell said.
Owner of local craft-pickling outfit Krafted on the Kenai, Howell first developed a taste for pickled onions while he was stationed with the Navy in Great Britain — where pickled onions are a mainstay.
“When I lived there I got hooked on them,” Howell said. “But when I came back, I found that nobody makes them.”
Howell, a retired naval officer who is also a retired Kenai Peninsula College student services director, tinkered with the recipe for years until it tasted exactly how it did in those British pubs. After enjoying his own experiment for about 10 years, his wife encouraged him to share the creation.
Howell said he enjoys the onions in a salad, on a sandwich or even just straight from the jar. He also recommends trying it with sharp cheddar and a hoppier beer.
Howell has been selling his onions at the Soldotna Saturday Farmers Market in 2016, and recently added several pickled products to his inventor — pickled garlic and hot pickled garlic. The hot garlic is pickled with spices, dried chilies and fresh jalapeno slices.
“People always ask, you know, ‘what else you got,’” Howell said.
Pickling and fermenting have been getting much bigger in the last couple years, Howell said. He thinks a combination of getting the word out and the trendiness of pickled products is what he has to credit for the growth of his business.
“[Fermenting and pickled products] have made a significant comeback,” Howell said.
It’s important to note that Howell’s pickled onions and garlic are not fermented. Instead, they are acidified, which just means that Howell uses the apple cider vinegar and spices to lower the pH of his product. He said he’s been experimenting with fermented products but hasn’t quite found the flavor profile or product he’s been looking for.
Folks interested in trying Howell’s creations can find his products from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Soldotna Saturday Farmers Market, online at the Alaska Food Hub and through the 9 Spice Pickled Onion Facebook page.