Sue on 31 Dec 2008
Matt, my husband, grouches that I spend entirely too much time thinking about produce. It’s just my nature. And besides, how much time would be appropriate?
Onions have been on my mind for the past few weeks. Possibly because it’s about time to start them in the greenhouse. I need good, sturdy seedlings to put out in the field in March. This way they’ll have plenty of time to bulb-up to baseball/softball size come summer. Golf ball sized are usable, but disappointing. No bragging rights there. And forget the miniature onion ‘sets’ that you can buy in mesh bags at the box stores and nurseries in lieu of seedlings. Too many are moldy, they tend to go to seed before bulbing and the squirrels in my neighborhood love to dig them up. They don’t eat them. I think it goes something like this in the miserable little squirrel mind: “Hmm, what’s this?, might be something good, let’s take a closer look”, pulls it out, takes a sniff, “nope, don’t think I’d care for that”….”hmm what’s this?, better take a look; oh that’s right, I don’t like these” . Repeat until every single onion is unearthed. This is a rodent with a very short memory.
‘Candy’ OnionsCountry cousin to the Easter Lily, onions are in the genus Allium, also home to garlic, shallots and leeks. It is impossible in my mind to cook well without them. I grow several types, but what interests me at the moment are the differences between “sweet” onions and the “storage” onions. Sweet onions are a summer treasure, ephemeral, lasting only a few weeks at most after harvest. Among the varieties a person can grow, ‘Candy’ is one of the best. It’s big, it’s sweet and unlike most onions, it just doesn’t care if the days are getting longer or shorter. Day-neutral, it will size up nicely as long as it’s growing conditions are met. These onions are mild because they have fewer of the sulfur compounds responsible for an onion’s pungency. And, their higher water content dilutes the sulfuric chemicals making them less noticeable. That high water content is also the reason they’re short-lived compared to storage types.
What blows my mind is that the storage onion we favor, ‘Copra’ is actually higher in sugar than many of the summer sweet types. The sweetness is masked by the oniony flavor that is more pronounced due to it’s lower water content; and less water means a longer shelf life. Heat is the key. When ‘Copra’ onions are sautéed, roasted, caramelized, or in any way cooked, the sulfur compounds are released… but not the sugars. These things are great roasted or grilled.
I guess it’s the vegetable analogy for not judging a book by it’s cover – or in this case an onion by your tears.