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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

25 Days of Herbs and Celebrations - December 22

Dear Folks,

Celebrating the Multicultural festivities of December, I thought I would pick an herb or spice which is referenced in the Bible (land of three of the Major Religions of the world) and used in many cuisines around the entire world, as a way of gathering together all the wealth of diversity around us - in true celebration.

Day 22

Herb:  Onion, Allium cepa, Numbers 11:5  "We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, 6 but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna."

I know many of us would also miss onions from our kitchen.  I just have to put some chopped in a hot pan with a bit of oil or butter and the house already smells like something good is cooking.

Onions along with garlic and leeks are considered both an herb (because the inside of the bulb is made up of leaves) and a vegetable. 

All herbs are "spices"  but not all spices are herbs.  Herbs are the green, leafy part of the plant, whereas a spice is generally referred to as the dried seed, stem or root.

There is a lot of information on this common vegetable at Wikipedia, including some of the nutrient information.

Considerable differences exist between onion varieties in polyphenl content, with shallots having the highest level, six times the amount found in Vidalia onions, the variety with the smallest amount. 36 37 Yellow onions have the highest total flavonoid content, an amount 11 times higher than in white onions.Red onions have considerable content of anthocyanin pigments, with at least 25 different compounds identified representing 10% of total flavonoid content. 37 --

It is not surprising that this much-loved food not only adds great flavor to our dishes, but also healthy components.

Onions are planted by either seed or “sets” which are tiny baby onion bulbs.   The typical varieties of “bulb” onions – the kind we like to keep on hand with a papery skin, can be grown here in the desert garden.

My practice is to purchase a package of sets in the fall – preferably before October 31st and start planting them out in successive planting every 2-4 weeks, about 4 inches apart.  I do this so I can pull them as young scallion-type (there is a specific variety that is grown only as scallions – but I like the dual purpose of the bulb type) whenever I need some during the cool months and into spring.  To achieve bulb size the plants need to be in the ground about 7-10 months.

When I harvest for scallions, I pull every 2nd or 3rd one, which eventually leaves more room for the bulb to form on the remaining ones.

Once the remaining onions begin to send up a flower head, they can be harvested at any time.  Like Garlic, they need to be hung to dry in the shade until the outer surface gets papery, then you know they will keep for storage.

[In the picture I show the onions in January and then the rest harvested in August.  I chose to chop and dry these in the sun so I now had a jar of chopped dried onions to use as needed all year.]

Onions, yellow, red, white etc. are also divided into “day length” sensitive growing preferences.

From the Oregon Extension Service – this explains what day length means:

The varieties of onions that require a shorter period (11 to 13 hours) of daylight to bulb are termed "short day" onions. Those that require the longest period of daylight (14 hours per day or more) to form bulbs are known as "long day" onions. Those with intermediate requirements (from 13 to 14 hours of light per day to bulb) are called, logically, "intermediate" onions.

Short-day onions include: Yellow Bermuda, White Creole and Eclipse onions (12 hours daylight to begin bulb formation). California Early Red, Ebenezer, Early Strasburg (13 hours).

Long day onions include: Yellow Globe Danvers (14 1/4 hours) Sweet Spanish, Yellow Flat Grant (14.9 hours) and Yellow Rynsburg, Zittan Yellow (16 hours).

Intermediate-day onions include: Early Yellow Globe, Australian Brown, White Portugal and Southport Yellow Globe (13.5 hours) Red Wethersfield, Southport Red Globe, Italian Red and Flat Madiera (14 hours).  --

Here in the desert garden where onions won’t happily grow in our 100 degree summer heat, you want to stay with short-day varieties and you can try intermediate types to see if they work for you.

Short-day anything applies to growing in the cool months in the desert garden because that is what we have – short days.  [Corn is another vegetable that is also classified as short or long day which is why we can plant corn twice – once in the winter and a second crop in the summer.]

There is no dearth of ways to use onions.  Sliced and grilled along side burgers and other meats on the grill is one of my favorite ones.  Like many vegetables, grilling or roasting onions caramelizes the sugars making them taste even better.

One of my other favorite ways to use onions is a dill and onion dip with yogurt (instead of sour cream) with my own dried dill and onions, add a bit of salt and you are ready.  Good tasting and healthier too if you go with a variety of dippers, like vegetables, instead of just chips.  This dip makes a good topping on baked potatoes and if you add a bit of horseradish, good on a steak, roast beef or burger.

Did you know there is a National Onion Association?  Every vegetable has to have a group-support network :-)   They have some good sounding recipes with onions.


Suzy Snowflake
Rosemary Clooney

Mary’s Boy Child
Boney M

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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