When my husband Nate and I met and married, his great-grandmother Rose was still alive. She was in her 90s and still lived in the beautiful Colonial home where she raised her children. At age 99 she finally moved into an assisted living facility, where she requested a cane so she could be like everyone else! She passed away just one month shy of 104 years old, and I am so grateful to have had the chance to know her.
Since Rose lived so long she was able to meet her first two great-great-grandchildren, both of whom carry her name. My daughter, Cate Rose, met Great-Great-Grandma Rose a few times — meetings that of course involved many laughs, hugs, and camera flashes.
Until she moved into assisted living Rose made Creamed Onions for every holiday. The season was not complete without Rose’s Creamed Onions and after she died, Nate’s grandmother and mother both carried on the tradition. There was only one hiccup to this recipe being passed down from daughter to daughter to daughter … ME.
For some reason I never made Creamed Onions for our holidays apart from family. It wasn’t a part of my family’s tradition so honestly, I think it simply slipped my mind all these years. Nate’s sister came to our home for Thanksgiving one year and set me straight. She reminded me that a holiday is not a holiday without Rose’s Creamed Onions!
That Thanksgiving, we made them … and failed miserably! We inadvertently used pickled onions for the recipe and it was horrible. It was also really funny! But the laughs couldn’t make up for the fact that we didn’t get to eat Rose’s onions!
Since then, I have rededicated myself to Rose’s Creamed Onions. It is part of my children’s heritage and a recipe I want to pass on. The girls and I recently made them the right way together and they were delicious. As yummy as the recipe was, the best part was the actual process of preparing and cooking the onions, especially with my oldest daughter Cate.
As we got ready to make the Creamed Onions I told Anna and Cate all about Rose, about how this was the recipe that everyone knew her by. Cate, my oldest child and the one who’s middle name honors this great woman, was especially excited to make the dish and talked about how she plans to make it “forever.”
The more modern version of the recipe uses jarred onions, but Rose always used fresh pearl or boiler onions. When Cate and I went to the store to find jarred onions, we only saw fresh boiler ones. Cate insisted that we stop looking and make them the way Rose always did. She literally gripped the onions to her chest, rejecting even the possibility of jarred onions. It was very sweet.
Whether you use fresh or jarred onions, the result is the same — delicious! The fresh onions take longer to cook, but if you cook them awhile, like Rose did, you end up with what are essentially layers of flat soft onion petals.
My husband’s family serves them as a side dish at all the major holidays, from Thanksgiving to Christmas to Easter. My kids don’t love eating the onions as much as they love making them. As my daughter Anna pointed out, even if you don’t like the onions that much, the cream around them is awesome! As for the adults in the family, we all love Rose’s onions. There are even several onion-averse members of the family who eagerly look forward to this dish each year. It’s just so good served alongside holiday food — as necessary for some family members as cranberry sauce.
Rose’s Creamed Onions
Makes: 12 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10-20 minutes when using jarred onions, 60-90 minutes when using fresh pearl/boiler onions
- 1 16-ounce jar onions (NOT pickled) or 1 pound pearl/boiler onions (about 20-25 total)
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 cups half and half
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- Pinch nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- If you are using fresh onions, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add onions and cook for 1 1/2 minutes. Drain onions and add to an ice bath to stop cooking. Cut off the root end of the onions and then peel the outer layer off each onion. Set onions aside.
- Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add flour all at once. Whisking constantly, cook until butter has liquefied. The butter and flour will start out pasty, then boil for about 3-4 minutes, then it will foam a bit and become liquefied, about 5 minutes total. When it reaches this point, turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for 3 more minutes.
- Slowly add cold half and half, whisking constantly while adding.
- Raise the heat back up to medium and cook until the sauce thickens, between 5-10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and whisk in the Parmesan cheese, dry mustard, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
- Add onions to the sauce, stir well, then pour into a 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle top with paprika.
- Jarred Onions: Bake uncovered for 10-30 minutes, until mixture is hot and bubbly. Cook longer if you want the top more browned.
- Fresh Onions: Bake uncovered for 60-90 minutes, until onions are very soft and top is very brown. If you want to cook the onions longer to make them even softer, cover with foil once the top is as brown as you want it.
- Creamed onions can be made a day ahead. Follow all directions until the baking step. Place unbaked creamed onions in the fridge, covered. The next day, remove baking dish from fridge, uncover, and let sit at room temperature while oven preheats. You will probably need to add 10-20 minutes of baking time.