Simple Storage Solutions with Style: Beautiful Braided Onions…

August 15th, 2010 § 8 comments § permalink

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

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Tears of Joy: In praise of the Onion…. and my favorite French Onion Soup!

September 1st, 2009 § 7 comments § permalink

Spanish Sweet and Stockton Red onions at Harvest

If the end of summer is bittersweet, then I will credit the humble onion for some of the sugar. On a chilly autumn day, I am a complete pushover for a bowl of French Onion soup topped with a thick layer of gooey, delicious Gruyere cheese, (see my favorite recipe below). I love cooking with onions, and I plant many varieties. Onions are tireless kitchen workhorses, adding sweet flavor to homemade pizzas, stews, tarts, dips, salsas and virtually every savory dish I love.

Onions are easy to grow, but they are a slow crop requiring months from seed germination to maturity. So in cool climates with short summers like mine, the seeds need an early start indoors. I usually buy my onion starts from local, organic Walker Farm. But if you live in a warmer climate, you can sow onion seed directly into the ground. Although onions do prefer a slightly sandy loam rich in organic matter, they are otherwise easy to please. In fact, over-fertilizing bulbs will result in lots of green but little onion, so be modest in applying fish emulsion, (once a month is more than enough in well prepared garden soil). Keep onions well weeded, and be very carefully when using tools, you don’t want to damage bulbs growing close to the surface. In late summer, you can tell when mature onions are ready to harvest by watching for the ‘flop’. When most of the tops have bent over, your onions are ready to pull. Of course, like most root vegetables, onions may also be harvested before maturity. Sometimes early-harvest onions are called ‘scallions’, but this is technically incorrect. Scallions, (or bunching onions), have a milder flavor, and are distinguished by their mature bulb-size. A true scallion produces a bulb no larger than the base of its leaves. Shallots, also a member of the onion family, have a mild flavor and are very useful in creating delicate sauces.

when the tops flop It’s time to harvest when the tops flop

When most of the tops have fallen over, carefully pull the onions from the soil and give them a good shake to remove some of the soil. When storing onions, it is important to carefully dry-cure them in a well-ventilated, low-humidity space. If the weather looks clear for a week, I will harvest mature varieties and spread them out on newspaper in a corner of the hot, sunny terrace. There I allow them to ‘cure’ for a week, rotating, shaking, and brushing them clean throughout the drying process. Walla Walla and some of the other poor-candidates for long-term storage will be braided and hung in my kitchen, while the shallots, as well as the firm red and yellow onions will be placed in nets and suspended from the ceiling in my cool, dry cellar.

onion harvest straight from the potager to the newspaper on terraceOnions are dug fresh from the garden, then spread out on the terrace to dry

herb shallots,(allium cepa aggregatum group)Shallots, (Allium cepa aggregatum group)

I use onions throughout the winter, so I grow a wide variety of easy-to-store types, as well as some for immediate use. I cook with shallots on an almost daily basis, (especially in egg dishes), and this year I have quite a large harvest of this favorite culinary herb. I am also a big fan of sweet onions. Walla Wallas have been popular for over a century; their mild, sweet flavor adding complexity to everything from soups to casseroles to steamed and grilled dishes. Spanish yellow onions and sweet Alyssas are also delicious. But the Cipollini Italian button onion (aka Cippolino) is my current favorite of the Allium cepa cultivars. Cipollinis are slightly sweet and wonderfully mild yet pungent. I love them roasted and grilled and used in panini. Cipollinis are beautiful onions, and I like looking at their flat tops displayed in braided bunches, hanging from my kitchen beams.

walla wallaClassic, sweet Walla Walla onions are one of my all-time favorites

cipollino button onionsThe deliciously sweet, mild Cipollini button onion – a gourmet favorite

spanish sweet onionsSpanish sweet yellow and white onions are both flavorful and mild

And now, for the best part of this post…

My  Favorite  French  Onion  Soup


Ingredients: (six small or four large servings)

6 good size yellow onions, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise, then into 1/4″ chunks

3 tbsp butter

1 1/2 cups dry white wine or sherry

6 cups homemade or high quality store-bought chicken broth (or high quality vegetarian substitute )

2 1/2 cups grated gruyere cheese

1 baguette cut into 1/2 inch slices

A half dozen sprigs of fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

Fresh ground black pepper to taste

salt to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the onions in a covered large roasting pan or good sized Dutch oven. Coat onions generously with butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast 2 hours or more, turning occasionally, and scraping the bottom of the pan until onions are golden brown, tender and soft. Test with a fork.

Remove from oven. Move pot to burner and bring heat to medium high. Cook onions, stirring constantly with a flat edged wooden spoon, scraping the pot as you go. After onions are nicely brown and crisp on top, (15-20 minutes), raise the heat slightly more and add wine, (or sherry), 1/2 cup at a time. Continue adding wine as the liquid evaporates, scraping the pot to deglaze as you stir. Reduce heat and add chicken stock, herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Bring the mixture back to a boil for one minute, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or more.

Meanwhile, spread the French bread slices on a cookie sheet and brown in the oven, (set to 400 degrees), for a few minutes. Watch carefully. Rotate the bread to brown both sides.

When ready to serve the soup, ladle portions into oven-safe ceramic bowls. Float the bread on top and sprinkle with the Gruyere cheese. Place beneath an oven broiler until the cheese is melted, but watch carefully. Add more grated cheese if necessary. Cool the soup for about 5 minutes before serving.

Serve hot


* NOTE: You may also save the broth for several days in a refrigerator to use for hot soup later. I actually find this enhances the flavor, and I often double the broth recipe to enjoy the soup all week.

~

Recipe adapted from many wonderful sources including Grandma and Cooks Illustrated Magazine


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basket of yellow, walla walla, spanish and small yellow onions


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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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