Some people will tell you that growing onions in the home garden isn’t really worth the effort. At less than $2 per pound in the supermarket, why bother? Does a home grown onion taste any better than a store bought one? Absolutely. Although not as profound as the difference between home grown and store bought tomatoes, garden fresh onions taste noticeably better. Rachel and I planted our first crop of onions this year and we couldn’t have been more pleased. We harvested about 30 pounds of the best tasting onions we’ve ever eaten. Next year we’ll plant twice as many. Onions do double duty in the kitchen. On the one hand, they’re a savory vegetable with contrasting flavors. Raw onions have a sharp, spicy taste while slow cooking brings out their natural sweetness. On the other hand, they’re a savory herb adding subtle, earthy undertones to meats and vegetables. Is it any wonder they’re the one vegetable commonly used in every cuisine?
Onions can be harvested and eaten fresh during any stage of their growth, but onions used for storage shouldn’t be harvested until their leaves turn brown and fall over. This is your cue that they’ve finished growing. Fresh onions have to be dried and cured before they’re ready for storage. After a week to 10 days, gently pull them from the ground being careful not to tear the roots or bruise the bulbs. Damaged bulbs have a limited shelf life. Wait for dry weather and harvest on a sunny day. Excessive moisture can delay the drying process and promote early spoilage.
Leave the bulbs on the ground to dry in the sun for about a week. If the weather is wet, let them dry under a covered porch or patio. Curing simply means drying the outer skins to form a protective layer. To cure the onions, spread them out in a single layer on a clean, dry surface out of direct sun. Make sure air can circulate freely around the bulbs to promote even drying. Curing can take up to a month. Be patient. You want the onions to dry out completely. Any onions with soft spots should be used right away or discarded because they won’t keep. When curing is complete, the tops will wither and the outer skins will tighten around the bulb and become papery. The bulbs will feel firm. Cut off the tops of the onions and store in a cool, dry place. Pungent onions keep longer than sweet varieties, so eat the sweet ones first. Stored properly, most onions will keep for a few months.
The flavor and texture of onions is determined by the cooking method. Onions are usually cooked in some kind of fat. Rachel and I like to use butter and olive oil. Caramelized onions have a deep sweetness and a rich amber color. Caramelization is a slow process. Cook sliced onions over medium-high heat in a cast-iron skillet. Stir the onions until completely covered in the cooking fat. Reduce heat to medium and allow to cook uncovered for 15 minutes. Stir once and allow to cook for an additional 15 minutes. A brown glaze will develop on the bottom of the pan. Add a little water, wine or broth and scrape the glaze until all of the liquid has evaporated. Caramelized onions are the perfect accompaniment to any grilled meat. Even though they’re a seasonal crop, you can enjoy home grown onions year-round.
Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at email@example.com