The Allium or onion family is large and diverse, with over 500 species. Our alliums are very important to us here at Stearns, and one of Kathy’s goals is to have an allium on the stand every week during the farm season. Our alliums include onions of several types, shallots, garlic, scallions and leeks. It’s an impressive parade of Alliums so let’s take a look at what we grow. The scallions come first, then the small purple cippolini onions, the garlic, the sweet Ailsa Craig onions, our flavorful red onions, fall leeks, storage onions and shallots.
Let’s start with the onions. The onion is a member of the pungent Allium genus of the lily family. The word onion comes to us from the Latin unio (meaning large pearl), which in Middle English became unyon. Oddly enough, the city of Chicago was named for a variety of onion the Native American Indians called chicago (A. canadense). Sweet onion varieties have been traced back to a packet of seeds from the Canary Islands which were sent to Texas in 1898. Those Bermuda onion seeds were planted and the sweet onion crop became an instant success.
Our purple cippolini onions are a special treat. Pronounced “chip-oh-LEE-nee,” this small onion is ideal for roasting, especially when you want to have whole roasted onions. The sweet onion we grow, Ailsa Craig, is unbelievably delicious. Brought to the U.S. from the British Isles, this is an heirloom sweet onion that brings steaks and hamburgers to new heights! Our red onions are the Red Wing Variety. These are medium size and mild, with terrific storage capacity.
Shallots are indispensable in the kitchen. They grow in a cluster of bulbs from a single planted one, like garlic does. They have a different flavor than onions even though they are relatives. I think they are sweeter and milder than onions, especially when they are fresh. I love their small size and use them often, chopped into all sorts of sauces. They are also lovely cooked whole or roasted alongside a chicken
Garlic has a long history and has been eaten as a food since the ancient Greeks and Romans. It is also recorded to have been used by the laborers who built the pyramids. It is known, of course, for its pungent flavor, which varies in intensity and aroma based on the cooking method. Generally, the longer it is cooked the sweeter and milder its flavor becomes. An interesting fact to know and tell is that the irrational fear of garlic is called alliumphobia. I truly hope that none of you are afflicted with this horrible disease.
Scallions are among my favorites of the alliums. They offer quite a punch of flavor for their small size; add them at the end of your cooking time for stronger flavor. Trim off the root and a bit of the green end, and you can use the whole scallion–the white and green parts–for lovely mild onion flavor. Scallions are endlessly versatile and go well with so many things.
Leeks are known for their lovely delicate, sweet flavor and add a subtle touch of oniony flavor to recipes without overpowering the other flavors that are present. Before preparing leeks, clean them thoroughly to remove any soil that may have gotten caught within the overlapping layers of this vegetable.
All alliums are low in calories and high in anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants are believed to help delay or slow down damage to cells and tissue in the body and are also believed to help prevent heart attacks. All the more reason to enjoy all of the alliums we grow year long here at Stearns.