The Onion/ Wisława Szymborska
The onion, now that’s something else. Its innards don’t exist. Nothing but pure onionhood fills this devout onionist. Oniony on the inside, onionesque it appears. It follows its own daimonion without our human tears.
Our skin is just a coverup for the land where none dare go, an internal inferno, the anathema of anatomy. In an onion there’s only onion from its top to its toe, onionymous monomania, unanimous omninudity…
Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh (A Large Number, 1976)
The onion is a fundamental vegetable in our kitchen, our culture and probably in human existence. We attribute to it an inner essence cloaked in hiding, associate it with tears and sorrow, courage, audacity and eternal life. And on the onion’s other side – simplicity, the elementary basicness of the common people. Of course, the onion has no clue of this. He’s totally indifferent to the big fuss, tending to his own growth, making an effort to just be… well, an onion…
It is one of the most ancient of cultivated plants. It originated in Western Asia, and there’s even evidence that it was raised in ancient Egypt. The Israelites craved it: “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the … onions and garlic.” In ancient Egypt, onions received special treatment, serving as models in Egyptian art and offerings for the gods, in addition to being a basic staple of the common folk. For the Egyptians, the revered onion with its many layers represented eternal life and was thus placed in the tombs of the Pharaohs. Traces of small onions were found in the eye sockets of Ramesses IV, and a basket of onions was considered to be a popular and respected funeral offering.
Conflict has always existed between the pungent odor of the onion and its taste. Aristocracy pinched their noses at the odor (but ate the onion nonetheless, while in India the Brahmins abstained while the common people consumed it greedily. Hammurabi’s Code notes a monthly allocation of onion and bread for the needy. Alexander the Great viewed the strong scent of the onion as a sign of his strength. An enthusiastic proponent of the “you-are-what-you-eat” school of warfare, he fed his warriors a steady diet of pungent onions to fortify their strength and courage.
In the very early days at Chubeza, we used to grow lots of onions in one round, but were traumatized by the endless weeding. After other complications, namely battling the onion fly and plantings that simply did not yield, we entered several years of confusion regarding the onion: should we grow it or not, and how much of it and when… After gaining some maturity and shedding some anxiety, we reached a level of confidence to slowly, systematically expand the rounds of onion planting in a clear, consecutive schedule geared to enable us to grow onions almost all year round.
We start planting and seeding the onion at the end of summertime. The first onion variety, Beit Alfa, is planted from bulbils (small onion plants) at the beginning of September. As the temperatures start to drop, it is time for the autumn variety, Ori. At the beginning of October we sow a crowded “nursery” of Ori seeds and in the middle of November we pull out the thin sprouts and replant them in spacious beds. The next round, “Riverside” of the Orlando summer variety, is seeded in December, harvested during summertime and scheduled to remain with us till the beginning of autumn.
As you can see, some onions we plant and others we seed. The plants are actually more expensive to buy and require extra energy if prepared on our own, but they have many advantages: they can be spaced accurately while planting, allowing the onion a better growth process and sparing us the task of thinning the crop. Planting eliminates certain difficulties of seeding, especially during wintertime when sprouting is harder and seeds can be whisked away by heavy showers. The plants are also stronger to confront the onion fly, or rather Mrs. Onion Fly who loves laying her eggs on the roots of the tiny bulbs. When the hungry onion maggots emerge, they nibble the little onions to death. However, once the onions are approximately pencil length, they are stiff enough to no longer be attractive to the female flies. For this reason, the onion plants, which hit the pencil-length Finish Line much sooner, are preferable to their seeded comrades.
Still, in order to protect the plants and sprouts from these “femme fatale flies,” we cover all the new saplings planted from the end of October till the end of February with thin white Agril covering, preventing the flies from reaching the baby bulbils and allowing the onions time to grow and strengthen. Once the plants reach the age where they can fend for themselves (i.e., pencil diameter), we remove the cover to give them some fresh air and direct sunlight, and then face the big bad outside world on their own.
This season, prepare to receive Chubeza’s fresh onions, sometimes coined “moist.” The fresh, moist onion is the same onion whose beautiful (and yummy) green leaves we usually ignore, allowing them to droop somewhat, then fold them downwards so their liquids drain into the onion bulb to fortify it. After a few days or weeks, the dry onions are harvested and placed in the field, covered from the sunlight, to dry up a little more, allowing the liquids in the green leaves to descend into the onion bulb as the onion develops dry layers of peeling to be preserved for many months.
We do this in summertime as well, but this winter onion yield is harvested for you fresh and green. The onion bulb has almost no dry skin, and it is juicy and truly fresh, distinctive and wonderful- especially chopped into a salad.
The onion has always been a primary component of natural medicine. It is a good source of Vitamins C and B1, chromium and dietary fibers. The organosulfur compounds grant the onion very strong healing powers, as does the quercetin antioxidant. Here is a brief look at some of this fella’s therapeutic talents:
Diabetes: the onion’s organosulfur compound reduces the blood sugar level. It raises the level of insulin available to deliver glucose to the cells, thus lowering its level in the blood. The onion’s significant chromium content influences the stability of blood sugar levels (the body’s chromium level depletes as a result of eating processed sugar and white flower).
Heart disease: the onion’s chromium content contributes to the reduction of “bad” cholesterol and raises the good cholesterol levels. The organosulfur compounds reduce the probability of heart disease, obstructions and cardiac failure by preventing arteriosclerosis and lowering blood pressure. The onion simulates the action performed by aspirin, thinning the blood and dissolving blood clots.
Viruses and infections: the onion serves as a natural antibiotic to fight bacteria (such as bacilli, salmonella, E. coli and others), worms, viruses and the common cold. Onion is recommended to treat excess phlegm and coughing. It reduces the swelling of arthritis and decreases the potency of asthma-causing allergens.
Chronic ailments: the onion contains antioxidants which fight free radicals, thus lowering the risk of cancer by destroying cancerous cells. Among these components are various phytochemicals including quercitine, which reduces the risk of intestinal and ovarian cancer, as well as prostate cancer.
Osteoporosis and bone strengthening: the onion contains amino acid compounds (or GPCS) that prevent the development of cells which break down bone tissue.
More details of the onion’s components and their attributes can be found in this article by dietitian Merav Mor-Ophir, with some recipes (Hebrew)
Several old-fashioned onion remedies:
For phlegm and coughing: Chop an onion to small pieces and mix with two tablespoons honey. Let stand for two hours. The resulting liquid is an excellent antibiotic syrup to alleviate phlegm and hoarseness, and ease coughing and asthma. (Note: This syrup is potent for only one day!)
Pain killing and relief of chronic infections and swelling: Slice an onion, add some salt, and apply to the aching area in a compress or bandage.
To eliminate worms: Drink onion juice (the worms will flee for their lives…)
For earaches: Drip onion juice into the ear, mixed with olive oil or almond oil.
* Onions keep well outside the fridge in a cool, dry place. Ventilation is important, so ideally they should be placed in a wicker or plastic basket.
* Many people store onions with potatoes, but this is not a great combination (for either vegetable). The potatoes contain moisture and emit a gas which expedites onion rotting.
* The remainder of an onion you’ve sliced can be stored in the fridge in a sealed container with some water (to reduce the odor).
After our wonderful rainy spell, we welcome this week of shiny wintery sunshine. Wishing us all a wintery week of health, light and happiness,
Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Yochai and the Chubeza team
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES (BESIDES ONIONS)?
Monday: Parsley/dill/coriander, broccoli, leeks/onions, cucumbers, Swiss chard/spinach/kale, tomatoes, carrots, beets/baby radish, lettuce/arugula/mizuna, fennel/kohlrabi, cabbage/cauliflower.
Large box, in addition: Celery/celeriac, red or green bell peppers/eggplant, fava beans/garden or snow peas.
Wednesday: Parsley/dill/coriander, broccoli, leeks/onions, cucumbers, Swiss chard/spinach/kale, tomatoes, carrots, beets/fennel/kohlrabi, lettuce/arugula/mizuna, , red cabbage/cauliflower, celeriac.
Large box, in addition: Green bell peppers/eggplant/Jerusalem artichoke, fava beans/garden or snow peas, baby radish.