Nannas know their onions

My name’s Kirsty and I’ve been asked by Riverford to swap apron for laptop and write a cooking blog about the weekly recipes I put together for your veg box and on our website.

I was prompted this week to think about family hand-me-down recipes that use up the last onion in the box. One of our customers, Anne-Marie Haigh, kindly sent me one such recipe – her version of Guernsey Bean Jar, which her mother and grandmother have made before her. There’s no better recommendation than that. Using belly pork, in our winter warmer meatbox this week, it’s adaptable for veggies too.

Anne-Marie’s email reminded me of a couple of recipes that my Nanna and Granny used to make. Braised beef and onions was a classic Nanna dish, often accompanied by homemade wine – elderberry for a special occasion, pea pod for a headache the next morning! Try it with kailkenny (or colcannon, depending where you come from). It links Nanna with my Scottish Granny, who lived in Cullen, on the North East coast, home to a soup cum meal in a bowl, Cullen Skink.

Simple to make and a real cockle warmer, it uses that last onion again. When you’re going for the ‘last tent standing’ award at the gale-swept campsite on the headland at Cullen when I last stayed there, you’ll want an hourly dose of this, coupled with a good dram or two, for sustenance and sanity. I made my version, in which you poach haddock in milk from the start, as Granny did (some recipes just use water for poaching) and served it to my Scottish builder Kenny. It passed muster; I hope you try it too. If you’ve got a leftover leek, use that up instead of the onion.

I’d love to hear about your Nanna’s know-how in the kitchen – email us at with suggestions for recipes and foodie topics or questions for this blog.

Happy cooking!


3 responses to “Nannas know their onions

  1. I wish I could try a lot of these recipes, but I have a 22yr old son who is very (parky) and wont eat exotic food or onions or any spices and we are on a health kick, so need low fat, ordinary ingredients which doesn’t include fish. Very difficult can you help? We have started using Quinoa if thats any help.

  2. Hi Jan

    We have some good recipes on our website that are low fat, without onions (or can be adapted to exclude them). Most of the recipes we have that feature bulghur or couscous, even farro, can be changed to quinoa.

    A lot of recipes do start with onions at their base for a richness and sweetness of flavour; try using finely sliced leeks or peppers instead, or try a ‘soffrito’ base – normally this is finely diced onion, carrot and celery, but you could leave out the onion. Does your son eat garlic? A finely chopped or crushed clove instead of onion would help to add flavour. A few finely sliced mushrooms would be suitable for some dishes to add a depth of flavour.

    A real favourite with many people is stuffed butternut squash. Roast some veg – whatever your son likes, toss with quinoa and some fresh herbs, pesto if you like and are happy to have a little oil. Stuff into halved and roasted butternut squash and sprinkle over just a little feta cheese.

    Have a look at the recipes we have on our website and try adapting them with the tips above instead of using the onion, there’s a few that are low fat to start you off listed below. It also helps to use a spray oil rather than the amount somrtimes suggested for cooking in recipes, make your own spray with an oil you trust and a fillable spray – kitchen shops sell them widely now; sometimes bought sprays have some weird preservatives or nasties in them.

    Stuffed Butternut Squash With Spinach And Couscous

    Italian Farro Salad With Vegetables And Pesto

    Tomato, Chard And Sunflower Seed Pasta

    Kale, Pecan + Cranberry Pilaf

    I hope that helps. Do feel free to email me at recipes@ if you need any more ideas.


  3. Food Herbs & Naturals

    What a wonderful site. Now, what we do with out onions?

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