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Food Item: Onions

Garth Brown |

One theme of this experiment is the difference between the food necessary to survive and the food necessary for comfort and enjoyment. The biggest issue is not any particular food item that I have access to, save turnips, but a longing for what I can eat. A good but bland diet of root root veggies and meat just gets boring. It was in this vein that Ed and Alanna independently mentioned a new found appreciation for spices, and it has certainly made me think more deeply about what seasonings it will be possible to grow and preserve this summer.

It has also renewed my appreciation for onions. Back in my more vegetarian leaning days, I hardly cooked a dinner that didn’t start with dicing one. But meat generally requires less dressing up than a bowl of brown rice, and after moving to the farm my intake diminished significantly. I still eat a lot of meat - more than at any other point in my life, in fact - but in my quest for variety the humble onion has proved to be a great boon.

Onions are capable of providing a remarkable range of flavors, from pungent rawness to sweet, complex caramel. Storage onions are too potent for me to tolerate without a bit of cooking, but that can be anything from a five minute saute to a patient forty minute reduction.

It feels a bit ridiculous writing about something as familiar and ubiquitous as an onion, but I thought it might offer a bit of balance to my recent downer of a post. That is to say, I am appreciating the subtlety and variety onions can infuse a meal with in a way that I would not if I wasn’t so severely restricting my diet.

It helps that I’ve consistently had great luck with onions since moving here. Some combination of the climate, the soil, the seed, the latitude (onions are day length sensitive), and my gardening approach has yielded a decent crop every year, which is more than I can say for plenty of other things I’ve tried to grow. The difficulty is getting them going, but once established they aren’t bothered by any pests, at least around here, and they aren’t too finicky about a perfect watering schedule. They take forever to grow out, but even a late start usually just translates to a crop of smaller onions, rather than a total failure as it might with something like broccoli.

And, of course, it helps that a good storage onion will keep for months and months in a cool, dry place.


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