Banish (the onion) from the kitchen and the pleasure flies with it. Its presence lends color and enchantment to the most modest dish; its absence reduces the rarest delicacy to hopeless insipidity, and dinner to despair. – Elizabeth Robbins Pennell

There is a marked chill in the air these days. It urges us to rush out and gather the vegetables from the garden before the first frost that will turn the leaves on the trees beautiful shades of gold, amber and crimson.

For a few weeks, the clarion call of the onions in my garden has been pulling me out to examine them carefully each day. While I was anxious to pull them, I wanted them to have as much time as possible before they went into storage. That, and I want to try something new this year. In the past, I have bagged them and put them in storage bags only to have many of them rot. Then, I came across the Italian Garden Project by the Smithsonian:

http://www.theitaliangardenproject.com/braiding-onions-and-garlic.html

Here, many of the old world techniques used by generations of gardeners are being studied and, in some cases, brought back from obscurity. I was fascinated! One task included in the project was braiding onions and garlic. The braid means that the alliums are evenly spaced and this allows more air flow so that they are less susceptible to rot. It’s worth a shot, so here we go!

The onions are supposed to have wilted, dead tops. Since it is going to freeze sometime this weekend, I was going to have to chance using onions with partially green tops.

This will have to do.

This will have to do.

Every last one got pulled. Onions at this stage are a little messy with all the loose, papery outer skins clinging half-heartedly one moment and then shredding like confetti all over the place the next moment. It’s definitely an outside project. To start, grab the largest onion of the lot to put at the head of the braid.

Let's start with this brawny young fellow.

Let’s start with this brawny young fellow.

A clean braid looks more appealing, so I decided to remove the dead outer layer:

Squeakity clean and ready to go!

Squeakity clean and ready to go!

Liking the look, I did the same thing to the rest of the onions. This prep done in advance means there will be no delays in the braiding.

To start the braid, the two second-biggest onions would need to be chosen as well.

chosing the three biggest onions to start

The largest onion goes in the centre while the two others are added and inch or two further down:

They naturally fight this way, so it pays not to fight it.

They naturally fit this way, so it pays not to fight it.

At this point, the braiding (or plaiting as some call it) begins. I learned how to braid when I was quite young. Someone told me that the three lengths were actually three people, each of whom wanted to be front and centre, so they kept replacing each other there, each taking a turn to be in the spotlight in an orderly fashion. That made sense to me, oddly. Before you can place the next set of onions in the braid, each of the onion tops should be in the centre 2 or 3 times – go with what feels right.

It should look like this.

It should look like this.

Now it is time to place the next largest onion in the middle.

1st onion after 1st row

You COULD braid each new onion in separately. I’m not that patient.

beginning of second row

Braid these ones in.

2nd row

Third row:

3rd row

And keep going until you are out of onions to braid.

finished braid

Cute, no? When you reach the end, do a few extra turns so that the braid can be secured. To hold the braid together, I cut a long strand of black yarn, doubled it and then tied it around the braid. The loop made by doubling the yarn gives you a handy hanger.

Fit to be tied! The loop from doubling the yarn is on the right.

Fit to be tied! The loop from doubling the yarn is on the right.

There were two small rows of slightly smaller onions in the garden, so I braided each of them as well.

While it is better to hang the onion braids in a cool, dry place like a basement or a heated garage, I didn’t have a convenient space for the braids there. Instead, I hung them in my kitchen where I can easily detach an onion when I need one. It’s a good thing Sweet Baboo hung my picture with coat hooks because it gave me the perfect out-of-the-way spot to put them! 🙂

finished and hanging in the kitchen

Somehow, to me, it looks like those onions should always have been there.

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2 thoughts on “Banish (the onion) from the kitchen and the pleasure flies with it. Its presence lends color and enchantment to the most modest dish; its absence reduces the rarest delicacy to hopeless insipidity, and dinner to despair. – Elizabeth Robbins Pennell

  1. You never know! I wasn’t sure how well the onions would stay together since their tops were still tender and green, but they are still hanging, so maybe they will be ok. I just hope it solves the storage problem – I guess time will tell. 🙂 The whole rooster and onions thing in my kitchen is making my place very Kountrified-looking!

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