I don’t know what your favourite vegetable is? Ours are definitely the ubiquitous onion. Like a great play or film the humble onion has to capacity to make you smile and cry all in a short time.
Certainly the onion is the most versatile veggie possible. How many recipes of how many nationalities called for two medium onions? Whether cooked or raw this flavoursome treat brings a boon to most meals. Part of a beef bourguignon or the main flavour in a cheese and onion sarnie, we just love onions.
I remember, many years ago when I first moved to Lincolnshire I got the shock of my life when I met hardy farmworkers who ate an onion just as one would eat an apple. I was challenged to try it but it wasn’t something that caught on with me. They claimed that their daily onion, which was a perk of the job, kept them free of colds. I don’t know if Lincolnshire farmer’s wives shared their enthusiasm!
Onions have been used by mankind for so long and so widely that it is difficult to trace their history. There is evidence of their use in the Bronze age. They are listed in the Bible as some of the foods enjoyed in ancient Egypt.
One of the best things I like about onions is that they are easy to grow. They can be grown from sets (which are small onions that have been grown from seeds sown thickly the previous year) or from seed set in late Winter/Spring. Personally I prefer seed grown onions as they keep so much more effectively. I set my first seeds in January indoors and transplant them early March into the garden. These will keep growing nicely until August and make bulbs weighing in at 200-400 grams each. The next sowing is directly into the garden in April. These quickly grow and I thin them out using the thinning as spring onions. The remaining onions mature in September at about 100-150 grams. The last sowings are made in June and these grow to about 50-80 grams. These are lovely cooked whole in stews. I do buy Autumn onion sets. These are planted out in September and grow slowly over Winter. When the weather warms up they swell rapidly and are ready to use from May onwards. In this way I get fresh onions all year.
If you find growing from seed irksome buy sets now and plant some straight away. Keep some cool in the fridge and plant them in May to achieve the continuation.
All onions like rich soil, not freshly manured, and not too boggy. Whilst this is ideal they are very adaptable and will grow in most soils and positions.
My favourite recipe is the Cheese and onion pie.
Pastry: Take 85g Butter/Lard of Veg fat. 170g plain flour and a little cold water. Pinch salt. Mix the fats and sieved flour together in a large bowl until dry mix with no lumps. Add a little water and mix with a knife to make a fairly stiff dough. Wrap in clingfilm and cool in the fridge for as long as possible.
Slice the onions and fry very gently in a large pan in the butter until soft but not browned. Add some water just to put a couple of millimetres in and then cover and cook gently until softened. (approx 10 mins)
Cut the pastry in half and roll out to line an 8” pie dish. Add a layer of onions, a layer of cheese, a layer of onions etc. Try to leave the cooking juice in the pan. Now whisk the eggs in a cup with the cream, salt and pepper and cream and then pour into the pan and mix with the onion juice. Pour the resulting mixture over the onion/cheese layer. Roll out the remaining pastry and cover the pie.
Cook for 30-45 mins at 200 degrees. Serve hot with a white sauce or even better I think cold the next day with pickles, salad and chutney. Mmm lovely grub. Especial thank to my good friend Sue Macgregor who makes the bestest C&O pie in the known Universe.