culinary onion notes

Jim McKenney
Thu, 05 Feb 2009 06:36:51 PST
Winters here in zone 7 Maryland can be very cold, but they are also very
bright; and while there is not much blooming in the garden, the stack of
seed catalogs I have is in full bloom. 

I depend on these seed catalogs to keep me up to date with the sometimes
unfamiliar items I see in the grocery store (the ever expanding range of
Asian greens in particular). Now that I’ve typed that word grocery I should
point out that I don’t shop at what are literally grocery stores; I shop at
typical food stores. The true grocery store almost became extinct, but
exists now in the guise of those buying clubs that sell everything in
month-size units. 

The better seed catalogs also often give me a heads-up on changes in
nomenclature. This week I’ve had a thing for onions. We eat a lot of onions
here. The interrelationships of the culinary onions are still being worked
out, and it’s an intriguing story. 

Shallots, which were generally called Allium ascalonicum when I was a kid,
then they went into a phase where they were called Allium cepa Aggregatum
Group or something like that. Now there seems to be a trend among some to
treat them as A. cepa variants and let it go at that. Because many of what
are sold as shallots now are of hybrid origin (hybrid in the sense onion x
shallot), maybe this makes sense.

I was reading the Rix and Phillips Random House Book of Vegetables where I
encountered the name Allium oschaninii in a list of wild Allium which might
have contributed to the ancestry of the cultivated Allium cepa (itself
unknown as a wild plant). 

Later I checked out the wikipedia account of shallot and was very surprised
to find this: the author of that account assigns the French gray shallot
(but not other shallots) to Allium oschaninii. Those who know their onions
have long praised the French gray as the best of the shallots.  

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone
7, where it's cold and the temperature will probably not go above freezing
today: early snowdrops are hunkered down. 
My Virtual Maryland Garden
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society

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