Monday, June 27, 2011

Anthropomorphic Onions

People say these onions can walk all on their own.

They do, in a way. The Egyptian Walking Onion sends up a scape heavy with bulbils, and if it is the Catawissa strain of the Egyptian Walking Onion, that head of bulbils may send up another level of scapes. As the bulbils on the flower head grow, the head bends lower and lower until it finally plants itself a few feet away from the mother plant. It has taken a few independent steps.

I've grown the Catawissa strain, or at least what appears to be the Catawissa strain, for a few years, and have now designated a corner of the garden for a permanant patch grown primarily for its bulbils (that I use in the recipe below). I'm not finished harvesting bulbils yet this year, but after getting most of them, I've found that they're larger and more prolific than ever before. This winter, I also planted a separate temporary row of bulbils to pull up and use in the scallion stage through the winter. They were delicious in stirfries, on the grill, and even braised.

Pickled Egyptian Walking Onions
I strayed away from typical pickling spices to create something I wanted to put in a martini. The juniper berry, clearly, was a natural choice, and the Meyer lemon peel adds a sweet, citrusy, almost floral quality. What I learned while creating these is that Meyer lemon and juniper berry go together very, very well. It is a flavor combination I need to play with more (while I'm sipping a martini that has one of these little numbers floating in it.)

You will need:
6 ounces of cleaned, skinned Egyptian Walking Onion bulbils (or pearl onions) weighed AFTER cleaning (I used the largest bulbils here for pickling, reserving the small ones to plant for winter scallions)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
2 1"x3" strips of Meyer lemon zest (peeled off with a veggie peeler, no white pith!)
24 gently crushed juniper berries

To make the pickled onions:
Toss the cleaned, skin-free onions in a small bowl with the salt. Cover it and place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. The same day you salt the onions, start melding flavors of the pickling liquid. In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, lemon zest, and juniper berries. Bring the mixture to a boil, boil just until the sugar has dissolved into the vinegar, then remove the mixture from heat. Let it cool then pour it into a jar, lid it, and place it in the refrigerator to begin steeping overnight.

The next day, bring a couple cups of water to a boil, drop in the salted onions (do not rinse them!) and boil for one minute, just to get them tender. After one minute of boiling, drain them of the water they boiled in, and divide them among clean canning jars. I used four 1/4 pint (4 oz) jars, which gave me plenty of room to spread them out and include lots of the good pickling liquid. Pour the pickling liquid over the onions in the jars to make sure they're thoroughly covered, but leaving a 1/2" of head room. Wipe off the rim of each jar, place the lid on, and screw on the ring. Process in a boiling water bath for ten minutes. Carefully remove the jars from the hot water bath and let them cool for twelve hours before handling.

These onions will taste best if you store them for a few weeks before opening. This recipe makes one shy pint of pickled onions.


Carrie said...

Fellow gardeners all around me in our Community Garden here in DC grow these. I haven’t tried them yet, but after watching them closely this year I kind of fell in love with the process. I think I might try some next year…

And if you don’t mind humoring a personal note – I have been reading and re-reading the stories about your friends in New York. They are such perfect tributes to people who have truly “found their place in life.” I am nearly three months into what might just be my dream job and five months out from marrying my best friend. (Don’t worry; I know to count my blessings.) It’s taken me a long time to get here, with more wrong turns than right, and the reality of it is sort of hard for me to grasp. The descriptions of your friends struck a chord, and made me realize how truly wonderful it is when you finally feel “at home” with yourself. I know I feel good now, and I am starting to understand how my joy can make others feel comfort too. You and your friends have beautiful relationships. Thank you for sharing.

In closing … spot on with the martini idea. Very well done.

michelle said...

I've heard of those onions but have discounted their culinary value, but now you've set me straight. I might have to give them a try one of theses days. Love the idea of pickling the bulbils.

the good soup said...

I'm going to scope out these walking onions for my next onion planting. I was intrigued the first time you mentioned them some months back and now I'm enchanted! The tinge of purple and green on the bulbils... the ease of a pickling onion that doesn't need peeling, only cleaning?! priceless.

Christina said...

Hi Carrie: I'm so happy that you've found a place in life where you'd like to be. That is wonderful! I didn't fall into my life either; it definitely took some searching, but I'm so happy to be where I am now. On another note, if your fellow gardeners aren't generous with the Egyptian Walking Onion bulbils, I'll happily send some your way to start in the fall, if you like.

Michelle: If you're ever interested, I have plenty bulbils to share. You're welcome to them.

TGS: Oh no, they need peeling, but it is a slight skin since they're relatively "green" still, and not loaded with layers of papery skin. I like them a lot, and having them has forced me to play with how to use them in the kitchen. They're perennials--that's my favorite of their characteristics.