Simple Storage Solutions with Style: Beautiful Braided Onions…

August 15th, 2010 § 8

A Sweet Onion Braid – Drying on a Late Summer Day

Warm, dry air and sparkling blue skies; here in Vermont, these are the first golden days of late summer bliss. As I swing in my big, old hammock —surrounded by the meadow-song of crickets and chattering finches— my mind drifts to nothing more important than the thought of spicy gazpacho and homemade crackers for lunch. Mmm… Gazpacho – one of my summertime favorites. I love the flavor of fresh, pungent onions, herbs and garden-ripe tomatoes. And speaking of onions, with the nights growing cooler —filled with showers of shooting stars— and the days growing shorter, it’s time to think about digging up those tasty bulbs and putting some up for winter…

Wondering when to pull? You can begin to harvest when most of the tops have flopped…

I’ve been harvesting baskets of onions from my potager this week; taking advantage of the long, dry spell to cure them on the sunny terrace. (Click here to read more about growing and harvesting onions, and find my favorite French Onion Soup recipe in a post from last year)  Cippolini, Walla Walla and Ailsa Craig —sweet members of the Allium cepa species— are my favorite garden onions. Because these mild onions are poor candidates for long-term, winter storage, I braid them and hang them in my kitchen and basement for immediate and continued use throughout late summer and fall (pungent, globe-type onions in red, white and yellow are the best long-term, winter-keepers in my root cellar). Shallots, garlic and onions are all easy to braid, and I find this short-term method of storage to be both practical and aesthetically pleasing in my kitchen…

Sweet Onion Style…

Many readers of this blog are long-time gardeners and cooks, with years of experience growing and storing produce. But for those of you who are new to putting food by —or with curious, young gardeners-in-training— onion braids are a great, creative way to begin preparing a pantry of stored produce. I start the process by gently pulling onions from the garden during a clear-weather stretch (carefully loosening them from the soil by rocking the earth with a fork positioned at least 6-8″ from the bulbs), dry-curing them on my terrace (or, if rain is in the forecast, spread out on newspaper in a protected porch or shed) for a week. As the onions dry, I gently turn, brush and shake them to remove dirt (be careful not to bruise the tender flesh). While the tops of the onions are still green and pliant, I gather bunches in groups of 6-12 for braiding. The smaller onions (especially the coin-like Cippolini) look particularly attractive in long braids with 12 or more bulbs per chain. The larger onions —such as the Walla Walla— need a bit more room, so I braid these bulbs in groups of 6-8…

Start with three onions…

Are you familiar with the classic French braid? My hair is quite long, and I often wear it pulled back in this manner when I am working. Braiding onions is quite like French braiding hair. The chain starts out like a normal braid, (see photo above) with three onions layered one on top of the other. A slight tapered angle looks nice, varying the start lengths, but this is a subtle detail and it isn’t necessary for beginners. Begin by making one braid chain from the onion greens as you would with hair, yarn or rope. Simply pull greens from the outside edge, holding them at the center to make an ‘x’, alternating sides as you go. If your onions are very large, you may want to make two or three links before you begin to add more onions…

Add onions as you go – alternating sides, just as you would with a French braid…

Now here is where the process begins to resemble the French braids that girls use to tie back their hair. Do you remember how you pull sections of hair from alternate side of the head, adding them to the main braid as you go? The same method applies when you are braiding onions or any other bulb. When you bring the onion greens toward the center to make an ‘x’, add another onion (as shown in the photo below. Hold this in place with the fingers of one hand as you bring greens from the other side, making the usual cross at the center. Once you have one link (or more or larger onions), repeat the process on the other side. To make your braid attractive, keep your link pattern even as you go…

Spacing can be one onion per link, or skip a link or two if onions are very large…

You can make your onion braids as long as you want, that part is up to you. Once you have reached your desired length, it will be easier to tie the onions with twine if you make a few links with greens only and hold the end together tightly. Once you have the hang of it, you can simply tie the onions at the base if you like, without adding extra links. That is a creative decision. You can also make your braids from different varieties of onions, or add bits of dried herbs. It’s all up to you…

Stop the braid when you have reached the desired hanging length. I usually aim for 8-12 onions per braid, depending on variety and size…

I tie the ends of my braids with garden twine. You can also use recycled rubber bands…

Tie the end of the chain tightly with twine, ribbon, string or looped rubber bands. Hold the chain by the greens and give it a good shake to be sure it’s solid and to remove any loose dirt. Hang the onions in a dry, sunny spot for another week or so to continue curing. Then bring them indoors to store in your kitchen for immediate use, or in a cool, dry spot (floor joists in cellars work well). Onions can also be stored in a cool, dark, dry place in baskets or woven bins (for airflow) once they are dry cured and their greens are removed…

The Braided Onions – Tied and Ready for Storage…

Cippolini Onion Braid – This storage method works for all kinds of onions, and for garlic as well…

Cippolini Onion Harvest and Braiding…

I think braided onions, garlic and shallots look beautiful hanging from the beams in my timber-frame home. As the harvest season continues, herbs and dried flowers will join the onion braids hanging in my kitchen, bringing wonderful, warm and pungent smells, earthy colors and attractive textures to the room. Even if you don’t grow your own onions, you can make braids for your kitchen by asking a local farmer to sell you uncured bulbs with greens attached. And, some markets sell cured onions in braids or bunches at the early part of the season. Be aware that because kitchens tend to get hot and steamy, unless you plan to use your onions and garlic immediately —and regularly— it’s best to store them out of the kitchen, in a cool, dark place.

Cippolini Onions Hanging from a Beam in the Kitchen… Ready for Roasting!

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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