Have you ever bought something that came in one of those plastic mesh bags? Of course you have — produce… toys… I’ve even seen socks packaged in them. Typically, you rip into the bag from any old angle, dump the contents, and toss the bag in the garbage. I used to do that, too, until I became enlightened by the homesteader’s spirit.
There’s always a way to reuse things, you just have to be on the lookout for a new way to do something. In this case, we’re talking about how to store onions.
But that’s not all! There are more ways to store onions than in a mesh bag. This article will teach you how to store onions in more ways than one!
Catch a Deal, Grow Your Own
My wife loves to catch a good deal, especially on food at the local farmer’s market. She loves to fill her cloth shopping bags until they won’t hold any more! Sometimes we get tons of one specific vegetable — particularly onions. The same guy always has a killer deal on onions. To begin with, when we were first learning how to properly store food, we were scared to get some of this stuff. We had thrown stuff in the freezer before, but a lot of the time, it would just get freezer burn, turn brown, and not be worth eating, anyway. We had to find a solution.
Our bigger goal is to learn to grow our own onions, and one day we’ll venture that way. When we’re ready to do that, I want to be fully prepared to know how to harvest and cure the onions as well as store them. If you grow your own, you’ve probably already learned how to store onions a couple of ways, but this article might teach you a new trick or two.
Waste Not, Want Not
When it comes to waste, my family tries to reduce it as much as possible. It has a lot to do with the fact that when you buy something, you’re paying for the packaging, too, and we like to get our full money’s worth out of everything we buy.
Ok, as corny as that sounds, it’s true. But more importantly, we feel that if you can reuse something to do another job (also called “repurposing” or “upcycling”) instead of having to buy something new to solve a problem.
That said, here’s how to store onions the main way we do it.
Store Onions in Mesh Bags (or Pantyhose)
Remember those mesh bags we were talking about earlier? Grab yourself some of those. Also, we like to keep twist ties off various bags of food we get (and we keep the ones from the trash bag boxes that never get used), so get those ready, too.
Start by closing-off one end of the mesh bag with a twist tie. You do have spare twist ties lying around, don’t you? Of course you do. You have them in a zipper bag in your kitchen drawer, right? If not, you can grab some here — just keep reusing them until the coating comes off.
Next, insert an onion, and then use another twist tie to close the bag off right after that single onion. Repeat the process as many times as you have onions, or until you run out of bag space.
If you have a little space left at the top of the bag, but not enough for an onion, you can always throw a couple of cloves of garlic in there. Put a nail or a screw hook (like this one) in the wall, and you can hang them. It is best to hang them in a cool, dark, dry place — if you have an unfinished basement that you use for storage, or a root cellar, those are ideal spots. In fact, if your basement’s stairwell is open, you can screw those cup hooks into the bottoms of the treads and hang the onions there.
Why do I store onions like this? Simple. This method will let the onions breathe” properly. It allows for air circulation between the onions so they don’t gather moisture and go bad faster. Any moisture that has already come into contact with the onions will evaporate, giving your onions a longer shelf life.
This same process can be done with pantyhose or stockings. In fact, you can just tie-off the hose instead of using twist ties. The difference is, you’ll probably have to cut the hose to get the next onion out, effectively destroying the stockings… which means you’d have to buy more… and that’s not continued reuse, right? See? You’re learning!
Store Onions in Paper Bags
You could store your onions in brown paper bags if you would rather. Take your brown paper sandwich bag (it can be any color, really) and fold it in half lengthwise.Using a hole punch, punch holes down both sides of the folded bag. When you’re done, unfold the bag. You should have 4 lines of holes down the front and back of the bag, and 2 lines on each side. Like the mesh or pantyhose, these holes will help the air circulate around the onions to keep them dry. Any residual moisture will be absorbed by the paper bag. Fold the top of the bag down and secure it with tape, staples, paper clips, clothes pins, or my personal favorite, binder clips.
Along that same line, I’ve actually seen people store their onions in shoe boxes with holes punched in them, and even using bamboo steamers like these. The concept is the same as the paper bags with holes.
Freeze Your Onions
You probably won’t have to worry about this part, because onions store really well. However, if you happen to have an onion or two that look like they’re starting to sprout or that have soft spots, freeze them!
Chopped — Chop onions as fine as you want, spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap (or turn a second cookie sheet upside down on top of the first) to keep the smell contained, and put them in the freezer for 1 hour. Remove from the freezer and transfer to a zipper bag or mason jar (or an air tight jar like this one), and return to the freezer. This will make sure all the little pieces of onion freeze separately so you can pour out as much as you need for any given recipe.
Pureed — If you use pureed onions in soups, stocks, stews or gravies, you can use them straight out of the freezer. Give your onions a rough chop, toss them into a blender (this kind works amazingly well for pureeing), and puree until smooth. Pour the onion puree into ice trays (they make them with lids), cover with plastic, and freeze. Once they’re frozen solid, pop the onion cubes out and store them in a freezer bag. Most ice trays hold about 1 tablespoon per cube.
Whole — Yes, you can even freeze onions whole. Peel off the outer papery layer, wash the onions, and blanch in scalding water for about 5 minutes. Dry and allow the onions to cool, then place them on a cookie sheet to freeze. Once they’re frozen, store them in a freezer bag.
More Tips for Storing Onions
- Onions keep the best in a cool, dark, dry area.
- Do not store onions in the refrigerator for an extended time as the cold temperature will soften their texture.
- Do not store onions in plastic bags — it will accelerate sprouting and spoilage due to lack of air circulation.
- Never store potatoes and onions together — stored together, they accelerate spoilage of each other.