What James Beard had to say about onions

Onions are indispensable in my kitchen. I usually have at least two types on hand at any given moment (red and yellow) and frequently even more. They are essential to many dishes. I’m far from the only fan of onions, of course; they are favored by home cooks and chefs alike. One of the onion’s biggest fans was James Beard, who wrote about this subject and many more in his iconic book Beard on Food. The James Beard Foundation just posted an excerpt from the book regarding onions, and it makes for a wonderful read

cider and sage roast onion

Beard notes that onions form the backbone of dishes from many cultures and provides us with examples of how onions have been venerated throughout the ages: “Onions, we are told, were part of the cargo on Noah’s ark. The Egyptians regarded them as a symbol of the sun they worshiped as a god, with the concentric rings of the sliced onion representing heaven, hell, earth, and the universe. If you’ve never studied the inside of an onion, cut one in half sometime and really look. It is one of nature’s most amazing works of art.”

The essay provides myriad ways to enjoy different types of onions – in a salad, pickled, or even on their own as a sandwich. Beard adored onion sandwiches, preferring sweet onions grown in Washington State and Idaho (undoubtedly the Walla Walla variety). As much as he loved onions, Beard shared the lament that many of us have about the tasty but fussy pearl onion, noting that “peeling these babies is a pretty monotonous task.”

Naturally, the EYB Library is stuffed with onion recipes. These alliums are included in over 41,000 online recipes. A few highlights are listed below. One of my favorite onion recipes is the Golden onion & thyme dip from Fine Cooking Magazine. What’s your favorite way to enjoy onions? 

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  • Rinshin  on  July 16, 2018

    It's not only differences in varieties, but also seasons. In Japan, early onions in spring are much praised and used to showcase the sweetness and water retaining quality with cooking onions whole.

  • anniette  on  July 19, 2018

    Thank you for the mention of James Beard's oniony interests, and of Beard on Food, one of my desert island cookbooks. (The ratatouille in there is simpler and better than all others.) There is yet another fabulous onions article in another book: Robert Farrar Capon's The Supper of the Lamb, chapter two. Give it a read, if you haven't! It is unforgettable.

  • rivergait  on  July 23, 2018

    I grow onions of several different varieites. I thought it interesting to learn that each onion ring represents another "leaf" of the onion. IOW, the skinny green parts rising from the ground in early growth are the center rings; the succeeding leaves represent the wrapping of larger outer rings on the onion bulb. Also, the leaves grow for several months, but the onion does not stop its upward growth and leaf formation until it's ready to stop and form a bulb for storage. Onions are biennials, meaning they don't "become onions" as we know the bulbs until their second year. If left alone, the plant will use the storage at that time to create tiny onion seeds atop the fluffy dandelion-like blooms for the next generation.

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