How do you like them onions?
When Manuel and Roberta Ferreira planted their Walla Walla onions in November, they weren’t aware of just how big a surprise they were in for.
The sweet onions have emerged, and they are huge.
“You don’t see them in the grocery store this big,” Roberta said as her husband pulled a volleyball-sized onion out of their garden.
Manuel said he planted small onion plants purchased at Eisley Nursery and the only helper he used was a little bit of nitrogen fertilizer. He said one of last year’s onions was 8 inches across, but when he picked it up it was rotten. This year’s batch is ready to eat.
“My wife slices them up and puts them in my sandwich every day,” he said.
“We mainly eat them raw, because they’re so flavorful,” Roberta said. “We don’t like real hot, spicy things, but you can eat these raw.”
She added that they enjoy cooking the onions with green beans and other vegetables.
Chef Francois Bonnefoi plants about 500 Walla Walla and Stockton red onions each year in his Auburn garden. He harvests them in April, he said, and knows they’re ready when one or two start to go to seed. Manuel said he knows his onions are ready when the tops start to dry out.
“The secret to onions is water,” Bonnefoi said, “lots of water.”
Bonnefoi enjoys making soup with his onions, because soup can be made using several types of onions.
A soup made using beef stock should be made with red wine, he said, and the onions should be cooked to a nice brown. On the flip side, onion soup made with chicken stock should use white wine and onions cooked just until they are clear.
Holding back tears
The rub of cooking with onions is the fact that they make cooks cry. The science behind this is that when you cut an onion you break its cells, the contents of which produce propanethiol S-oxide, a sulfur compound whose gas reacts with the moisture in your eyes to form sulfuric acid. That burns your eyes, which then release more tears to wash it away.
Newcastle Produce Chef Chelsea Federwitz said she’s tried “almost everything, if not everything” to keep from crying while chopping onions.
“I do think one of the best ways to make it not so bad is having a really sharp knife,” she advised. “The sharper the knife, the less you are smashing all of those molecules that escape into the air and into your eyes.”
Bonnefoi said he cuts his onions in half right away, even before peeling them, and sticks the halves in a container of water with just a little bit of white or apple cider vinegar in it. After soaking for five to 10 minutes, he said, the problem is eliminated without changing the taste.
In addition to onions, the Ferreiras grow squash, broccoli, melons, tomatoes and flowers at their Auburn home. They’ve had a garden together for as long as they’ve been married – 54 years.
“We’re supposed to be retired,” Roberta said, “but we can’t keep our hands out of the dirt.”