Country Culture Advertise Here Ad

Peeling back the layers

Share to:


Allium cepa. This friend of any home garden should be a staple in every kitchen. Crisp and sometimes sweet, often sour – occasionally packing a powerful punch – this veggie can be snowy white, golden yellow or a brilliant reddish-purple. Care to take a guess?

It’s the onion! Join us for a brief walkthrough of the onion’s journey (and my favorite part, its role in the kitchen!). This article from the National Onion Association has some great “quick history” on the onion. It’s believed the onion has been cultivated for 5,000 to 7,000 years.

“Many archaeologists, botanists and food historians believe onions originated in central Asia. Other research suggests onions were first grown in Iran and West Pakistan.” They made their way across the Middle East and Europe and eventually were carried to the New World, where bulb onions were a staple for the early settlers.

The onion has been a mainstay for hundreds of years of American cuisine and now all you have to do is step into your local grocery store or farmers market and be greeted with multiple different varieties.

But what if you want to grow your own?

It’s easy! You can start onions from seeds or you can utilize “onion sets” which are basically small-bulbed “onion starters.” We’re a little bit past the optimal planting window (early spring) for this season, but it’s never too late to start planning for next year! This article from does a great job of summarizing the process from starting your seeds or bulbs to planting and harvesting. Another article from the University of Ohio’s Cooperative Extension has some good considerations to bear in mind:

“Onions are known to be adaptable, which helps onions to be grown in various regions and zones … Onion grows best in an area that has full sun, loose, well-drained, fertile, sandy-loam [Editor’s note: “loamy soil” is optimal for gardening, due to its composition] to silt-loam soils soil with plenty of organic matter. Onions are easily affected by high acid soils and prefer soil pH between 6.0 and 6.8. Avoid heavy clay soils as they retain water longer after rains and irrigation. Heavy clay soils should be modified with organic matter to improve aeration and soil drainage.”

Though I don’t want to “park there,” it’s worth touching a little bit on

preservation. Onions can be stored in a cool, dry place, or canned, frozen and more! This article from Clemson University Extension touches on some specifics.

Now we get to park at the fun part: Cooking! Make sure to take proper care when cutting your onions. Sweet onions typically are a lot more “friendly” than other varieties. Some choose to just “soldier through” the process; others use gloves and eye protection. Sometimes, tears can be curtailed by cutting out the tender “heart” or “eye” of the onion. Regardless of if you grin and bear it or if you have a system in place, the important reminder is don’t touch your face! You’ll regret it almost immediately.

I use onions a lot as a garnish. I love caramelizing onions in butter or olive oil (along with some sautéed mushrooms) to use as a garnish/side for a steak or another cut of meat. Sometimes a quicker fry (and a crispier onion) makes more sense for the recipe. You just can’t beat the texture and the wealth of flavor that a well-cooked onion brings to a recipe.

Raw onions are have their place as well – if I’m doing a salad, I prefer a sweeter onion, like a Vidalia. I have a simple summer salad recipe that we love in my family: romaine lettuce, fresh strawberries, sliced Vidalia onions, a sprinkle of poppy seeds and a very basic Balsamic vinaigrette. Perfection on a warm summer day.

As a single guy on the go, I don’t cook many involved recipes these days – but be sure to check out this list from the team at Bon Appetit for some tasty ideas to add some spice to your kitchen this summer.

In conclusion, the onion has been a culinary treasure for thousands of years, with a rich history that spans continents. From its origins in central Asia to its widespread cultivation in Europe, the Middle East and eventually the New World, the onion has become an integral part of American cuisine. Are you ready for an adventure? Let’s embrace the power of this humble vegetable and let it enhance our culinary creations this summer and beyond.

by Andrew Haman

Recent Posts:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *