On too few onions

Wednesday, March 10th:  The last of the storage onions gets eaten!

I knew last year that our onions would run out.  It was a bummer year for them for a variety of reasons.  I have been terribly stingy with them as a result…and no, our food hasn’t been overly bland, it’s simply been very varied.

And no, I didn’t run to the store to buy any replacements.  A girl needs her principles.

At the ready on the butcher block:  the weeny bulbil garlic (never expected it to grow big, and I was right) and the small yellow shallots.  They’re pictured with butter and drying thyme, which likewise are need-at-hand staples.

Instead, indeed, I’ve changed up.  It was after the very first year of trying to produce everything we eat that I realized the gaps in my planning of the allium family.   And storage onions can be tough to grow from seed, harder than any of their cousins in my experience; it was a lesson learned.  I couldn’t, and shouldn’t, try to grow and store 100 pounds of storage onions, it’s both a waste of garden space and we’ll never eat them all before they sprout.  I’ve learned, then, not to rely on them:  shallots, scallions, garlic and leeks have instead been featured.  Egyptian walking onions with their weird topsets and potato onions with their tiny why-bother bottomsets (I just made that up:  basically, they grow off the mother onion) and leek pearls and chives and on and on…not, maybe, as handy as walking to the basement and grabbing a storage onion, but not so difficult to eat, either.

I take solace, too, in the fact that not every food culture relies on storage onions.  Can you imagine big chunks of raw onion in your miso soup, for example?  Yes, luckily, the greens of onions are readily edible.

Where would we be without the whole family?  But, well, they do have a downside.  I quote Swift:

This is every cook’s opinion
No savory dish without an onion,
But lest your kissing should be spoiled
Your onions must be fully boiled.

17 responses to “On too few onions

  1. Hee hee; I love Swift. I grow the Evergreen Hardy White scallions and they have been harvested all winter from the uncovered (well, except for snow) garden for omelets, stews, quiches and salads. Our storage onions got a bit short too, so we’ve been glad for these multipliers.

    I’m trying mother onions (potato onions) this year as well, in hopes of never running out again.

    Great post!

  2. Good to know about the others. I am trying storage onions from seed for the very first time this year. I transplanted the first bunch last weekend, and they are currently being drowned in the incessant rain that we’ve had all week. I read in a couple of places that onions grown from seed are larger than those from sets so that’s why I tried seeds.

    To get any onions at all this year
    I’d better hedge my bets
    And even though they are more dear
    I’ll get some onion sets

  3. I’ve never had any luck with onions or leeks from seed. They grow well until about 3-4″ tall, then wilt and die. I finally gave up and I buy baby onions to plant instead. WallaWalla and Copra, although the former sprout really soon in the basement. I’ve also done ciprolinis the last couple of years, and while they are cute little onions, they are the devil to peel due to their flattened shape! This year I’m sticking to Copra, although I did add some Mars into the mix – I like red onions.

  4. “Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,
    And, scarce suspected, animate the whole”
    -Sydney Smith

    Onions will be the last crop I achieve self-sufficiency in. But leeks are my friend.

  5. We had a bad onion year too–after a season where I almost made it through on my own. And though I DO have principles, ahem, I have just purchased my onions this winter. But I did learn a bit over the past season, and have alternatives brewing early in the garden–walking onions and chives–and still tons of garlic to use up, so I feel like I am getting a head start.

    This year I am starting from seed, and all is going well so far. (But Paula, I’m with you, tempted to get a few copra starts to hedge my bets).

  6. I’m trying onions for the first time this year.

    another onion saying:
    “a meal is not a meal without soup, even if it is only an onion boiled in water.” Chilean Dad.

  7. I am still learning with onions, and so far have had the best luck with seeds I started myself. Lots of compost and manure, lots of mulch, and just enough water to keep them wet, not drowning. Now garlic on the other hand, we have not bought garlic going on five years, and I grow more and more each year!

  8. If only storage onions would last through April! Mine tend to start sprouting at the beginning of March, so I tend to dice up most of what is left at that point and stick it in the freezer. Somehow spending late spring and early summer without yellow onions doesn’t seem a bother but I crave them in the hearty meals of the last couple months of cold weather.

  9. Thanks for sharing your onion wisdom!

  10. We’ve just now gotten our own property to start planting. But, I’ve stressed the importance of onions to my sweetie, reminding him how many I use in my cooking. Luckily, our temperate climate should allow us to do green onions (a local well-adapted variety) here through part of the year.

    One way I’ve found to preserve onions, besides drying, of course, is this recipe for Pickled Onions. I use whatever onions I have on hand and dice them rather than cut into eighths. They seem to keep forever in the fridge (tucked away in the back) and work well in most recipes where I’d normally use raw onion. I just spoon them out into the dish, but you could rinse them to get more of the liquid off. Since there are no spices, they have just the onion and a little vinegar flavor.

    • How exciting, Chile!!! Congratulations. I read about the little pig: what a fine sign for you. And thanks for the recipe for pickled onions. I usually pickle red ones (if I have a surfeit of them of course) in the fridge the same way…though it does have a lot more of the pickle-type spices in it. I slice them REALLY thin then use them on top of salad. Best of luck with your new garden, and may you be swimming in onions of all kinds!

  11. Thanks! I pickled some onion slices with apples and some spices this past fall. They are pretty good but as a vegetarian, it can be hard to find meals that are enhanced by typical pickles or relishes. After an intense year of pickling, I’ve come to the realization that I much prefer the Asian type pickles (like kimchi and preserved lemons) to the other type of pickles like dills and such.

  12. I never had any luck with onions until I started growing from seed. Understanding how they respond to light and temperatures helped too. Day length is so important. I’ve had wonderful luck with Copra (white) and Redwing (red) for growing and keeping without much sprouting until about now. Love your posts!

  13. MAC, glad to hear from a fellow onion-worrier! I have the Hardy Whites too and they’ve done wonderfully. I branched out last year and got some red ones from Kitazawa and they’re great but not as prolific. I think you’ll like the potato onions. The skins can be kind of hard to peel but they’re perfect as pearl onions (should you go that route) and the best way to peel pearls is to pour boiling water over them and let them sit a bit.

    OMG Paula you’re hilarious. Actually the little plants Ellen mentions are the most dear. Sets are technically 2nd year bulbs that weren’t allowed to grow large enough in their first year. (The way they grow them is they sow them thickly and just not thin them.) I tried making my own sets one year and they did work for the next but it is still more worthwhile, size-wise, to grow from seed. Then I grow to the grocery store and see onions the size of grapefruit and I feel all incompetent again…until I wonder what the hell I would do with an onion that large.

    Ellen, indeed, the Walla Wallas or any of those silly sweet onions are really so not storage onions. I successfully got seed from my first generation of Copras (they’re hybrids) and they were great! I do agree both those varieties are good ones to get, especially if you can get them pre-grown for you. I am a sucker for red onions too but goodness not old ones! Holy Vampfire! I made the mistake of putting the tiniest one on a salad recently. Won’t do that again.

    Keep trying, Kate. I remember once coming back really hot from sailing to my friend’s house (we co-owned a sailboat) armed with a gigantic watermelon we were all just dying to cut into…and we did, with the knife that he’d recently used (and not wiped off) to smash garlic cloves with. Yuck!

    Ack Sara I didn’t mean to be holier-than-thou with the no-purchase stand. I am glad to hear you have options though! You just might need to use more to get the same effects. That said, we love chives so much that our eggs are about as green as they are yellow, and THEN there’s green garlic to get excited about. The end of the storage onion season is actually something to look forward to!

    Aimee, that’s the Stone Soup principle in action. I like that! Good luck on the onion journey though; there are many twists and turns on that road.

    Andy, indeed! I have to restrain myself with garlic, really I do, or else I would run out of greenhouse real estate (they grow best in there). And yeah, the biggest onions I have ever grown, hand’s down, were from seed. Preparing the beds is important too I find, especially with our icky clay; it cements them in place if it’s too dry.

    Jen, clever you, thinking ahead enough to stick them in the freezer! And yeah, hearty dishes just cry out for them, I agree. Is there a colder place you can keep them? They’re happiest at something like 45 all the time. Unhappy people at that temperature, of course, but potatoes and onions love it.

    Kathy! You’re welcome.

    Chile, I have so gone down that route too: I am not a happy pickler. My daughter would gladly eat pickles daily (so I still *need* to do it) but I am more fond of sauerkraut and kimchi too. And yeah, there’s something kind of overwhelming about that taste. Your apples and onions though sound quite lovely, especially since they’re refrig pickles so have all their microbial goodness with them still and isn’t boiled out.

    Mandy, hi! Thanks for the recommendation of the Redwings. I have been hopping around with reds for years now, and still haven’t found “the one” though I agree Copras are fabulous. I’ll have to try the Redwings next year!

  14. I’ve had some luck lately with eating the outer portions of a sprouted onion, and dividing and planting what remains. More experiments remain in that effort, but I’m excited so far.

    It does seem to be important to separate the individual sprouts from one another, most onions seem to naturally split in two once you remove enough layers. The tough skin near the leaves is a good guide as to how deep to cut.

    • Hi Joel, so you plant the green shoot? It probably won’t have the energy to go to seed then, and you should be able to continue to eat the shoot’s greens. I actually use the better/bigger sprouting onions to be seed stock for next year. I plant them and allow them to form a seedhead and then I dry and then harvest the seeds…I figure if it grew here and managed to store through the winter it’s worthwhile to try to keep the plant going. But: I like experimenting, just like you.

  15. I really would love to trade for some of the yellow potato-onions, if you really don’t want to bother with them I’ll give them a good home… Various seeds, let me know what you’re into, and we can figure out what you’d like me to send you 🙂

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