Do people outside the north of England still pickle their own onions? Honest question, I don't know.
The pickling season starts round about October when suitable onions are sold in supermarkets and certain garden centres. There is, of course, nothing to stop you making use of your own onions or shallots, the only key requirement is that they be relatively small, as they have to fit in jars.
Peeling them takes ages. It's a horrid, tedious task and, be warned, leaves a strong smell of onions on your hands. If this worries you, wear gloves. Top and tail the little onions and remove their outer skin. If the first layer is wrinkled or displeasing to the eye, strip it off and discard.
Next, soak them in brine for at least 24 hours. This is to make them crunchy. Apparently you can just put them in salt, but it would take an awful lot of salt to cover the batches we do. So brine is probably easier.
Now, put them in jars. Any old jars will do. Of course if you are posh you will have bought special jars for the purpose. But you don't need to. It does help though if the jar has a lid that can be sealed. (If it doesn't, use grease-proof paper and an elastic band to seal the jar. Not ideal but it will work.) Squeeze as many pickles as you can into each jar.
Next, pour in pickling vinegar. The special vinegar is best, but you can use ordinary malt vinegar instead and add spices to taste. If you like your pickles sweet (ugh!) add sugar. Make sure all the pickles are covered by the vinegar.
Leave in a cool place for at least three months. You might get away with opening them a little earlier, but they will be immature. I prefer to leave them for six months. Even twelve months at a pinch, but there is then an increasing risk that the pickles will go soft and taste horrible. I'm sure there's a scientific reason for this but I have no idea what it is.
A nice mature pickle should beat any shop-bought pickle into a cocked hat. It's the equivalent of real ale against fizzy 'keg' beer. Nothing is better sliced onto a cold beef sandwich, or as part of a ploughman's lunch. You can even eat them on their own if you've got the taste for them. Mmmmm!
A word of warning - the unsliced pickles are probably best kept away from small children as there may well be a choking risk. Better safe than sorry.