Larry K

Larry Keyes

I started looking into the subject of onions when I heard that October is Onion Month. Once I got started I could barely stop; I was slurping up onion knowledge.

  1. The reason that onions make can make you cry is due to a fairly complex chemical reaction that begins when an enzyme is released when the onion is sliced. After further chemical reactions with air, the resulting gas combines with tears in your eyes to create a very mild sulfuric acid. And, of course, it is this mild acid which irritates your eyes. There is this classic sequence in the movie Julie and Julia, where Julia Child (a very determined person…) played by Meryl Streep practices dicing onions for her course at the Cordon Bleu cooking school, during which she drives her husband from their apartment.
  2. The many layers of an onion are actually the base of the onion’s leaves, the green part that grows above ground. Of course, the larger that the onion bulb is, the more leaves, and the more layers.  It also turns out that larger onions tend to have a sharper onion taste than smaller onions of the same variety.
  3. Several common onions are available in North America.  Some examples.
      • Red Onions – A little less potent than yellow onions, they are often added raw to salads and burgers.
      • Yellow Onions – Probably the most common cooking onion, these have a very strong, oniony flavor when raw but lose their sharpness when cooked.
      • White Onions – Smaller and sweeter than red and yellow onions, they are often used in Mexican cooking.
      • Scallions – These can be either bulbing onion varieties harvested prematurely before they begin to form bulbs or special varieties that never form bulbs.  
      • Spring Onions – These are regular onion varieties harvested after the scallion stage when a small bulb has formed; basically “baby” onions.
  4. Much of the advice on growing onions suggests starting onions indoors from seeds in February or March for planting outside in April and May. This timetable works for so-called “long day” onions that are grown in the northern part of the U.S. The long days of early summer are the signal to the onion plant to switch from producing leaves to developing a bulb. “Short-day” onions are grown in the south and begin to bulb up when the days are 10-12 hours long. They are planted in the fall to be harvested the following spring. “Day neutral” onions aren’t as sensitive to day-length and grow well in much of the country, save for the northern and southern extremes. They are usually planted in the spring.
  5. Onions were used in the practice of “cromniomancy,” in which the onion plants are used to predict the future, answer a perplexing question or to help choose a marriage partner.  To find answers to yes/no questions, two onions are placed on an altar. One onion is labeled “yes”, and the other is labeled “no”.  The onion which sprouts first points to the answer.

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