Sunday, May 22, 2011

Shallots and Potato Onions

I harvested all my shallots and potato onions today. The garden smelled like a stew. It was delicious.

I grew shallots for the first time last year. I grew a variety called Sharon's, which was pretty, but seemed to put all of its energy into trying to flower no matter how vigilant I was at removing flower stalks, leaving me with skinny shallots that were mostly tough, dead, flower stalks. This year, I grew the ubiquitous French Red, and I'm delighted with its performance. I'll keep the best specimens to plant this fall, hopefully encouraging the same kind of microclimate acclimation that occurs in garlic.

Within the same species, Allium cepa var. aggregatum, lives the fascinating potato onion. Larger than a shallot, more standardly onion in flavor, and very long-keeping, the potato onion was the onion of choice for many westward headed settlers. The earliest mention I found online of the potato onion was in a British book dating to 1847 titled Midland Florist and Suburban Agriculturist. This book mentioned the potato onion's propagation and sale in London in 1796.

The potato onion clumps like shallots. When I planted them this fall, I planted small bulbs that grew to be fat (2 1/2 inches) bulbs and large bulbs that divided into many smaller bulbs. That's the general planting strategy: plant a mix of large and small, so you can harvest large ones for a big portion of your harvest and small ones that will become large ones next year. Growing the potato onion requires the future view.

That is what I love about both shallots and potato onions (and garlic and Egyptian Walking Onions): they're perennials. If you find a good strain, keeping it going is as simple as planting its divisions again next year.

Now, piles of shallots and potato onions lay across several drying racks in the garden shed. I'll let them dry a few weeks, remove excess foliage, then divide them for storage. I'll separate the largest, healthiest shallots to plant this fall. I'll choose a few of the largest potato onions and all the tiny ones to plant again in the fall. The rest, I'll hang in net bags in my kitchen, ready to make food taste good. And if all goes well, next year, I'll do it all again. After all, perennial vegetables just keep happening.