A red onion story

THIS red onion story started improbably in April, when we went from Maine into Quebec to assist at the maple sugary. On the bank of the Chaudi`ere River sat a small convenience store where we found the bags of red onion sets piled high on a table at a price which, compared with onion-set prices stateside, was a big bargain. I didn't remember seeing red onion sets in the stores at home, and when I checked I found my seed catalogs lack them. Yellow and white, but no reds. I brought home a plastic net bag of red onion sets, a kilogram, and not one of them was bigger than a shelled-out peanut. That was a tedious day when I had my garden ready to plant and I squirmed along on my knees thrusting, one by one, peanut-size red onion sets into the good brown earth. I next had a couple of pounds of my usual yellow onion sets, enough to keep us in onions for the year, and by the time I finished both kinds I was onioned for fair and smelled the same.

This has been a good year for onions. The Canadian reds lost no time in ``taking holt,'' and within a week had green shoots proclaiming good intentions -- the first sprouts of this year's garden and well ahead of my green peas. ``My, don't your onions look good!'' people would say, and I'd tell how I found them in a grocery store in Canada. I had put some 0-44-0 under them, which onions like, and I strewed some more when it came time to scratch around them.

Soon the shoots were knee-high, and when I fingered I was pleased to find baby onions that promised cooperation with the Sunday chicken. Well ahead of my yellow onion sets, which, for that matter, were doing just fine and dandy. I kept planting the garden and soon had everything in but the cucumbers -- I don't plant them until June 15. They fruit as soon as those planted earlier, and they come after the bugs have quit. A good onion year, but good, too, for other things. I bent down the onion tops when they were ready, and then decided one day it was time to harvest my reds. The yellows were right behind, but would need another week, anyway.

Well, I kept pulling red onions, and as I piled them along the row I could see that I had acquired an increase. Baseball size, they accumulated into a supply far beyond all reasonable needs of our household. I have no idea if these red onions will prove to be ``keepers,'' but if they do, we'll have enough to last forever. I have them suspended a peck to a clutch in mesh onion sacks, from hooks in our storage room ceiling, whence they yield an agreeable and impetuous flavor. Indeed, when I finished handl ing them I was flavorful myself, and undertook ablutions intended to restore my originality. ``Soap and water isn't the answer!'' I said, and she said, ``You're telling me!'' I applied some dickey-doo and scrubbed harder, which helped some, but for a couple of days I smelled like an intimate French caf'e where the onion is the soup du jour. Not altogether objectionable if you like onions, but enough to make people turn at the post office to learn what that is. We use a lot of onions, and now w e will use a lot of red onions. I'm told red ones are colorful in salads, but I wondered if they are interchangeable in my other programs. Such as camp fried potatoes. So I tried them, and in camp fried potatoes they are superb. The recipe:

Camp Fried Patates* -- 10 to 15 red Canadian onions, baseball size; 1 pound strip bacon, medium lean; 1 peck green mountain potatoes, previously boiled or baked; 6 sweet peppers; mushrooms (enough).

Cut bacon in bits and spread on bottom of large frypan to try out over a slow heat. As bacon fat appears, add onions sliced and cut in small pieces. Cover pan and allow bacon and onions to get acquainted in a lingering manner. Don't push this. When you lift the cover at least to see how the onions are doing, be ready for the surge of humanity attracted by the aroma. When the onions are properly lucent, add the peppers and mushrooms, cut in small pieces, and return cover for an indefinite period. Si mmer. Be patient. Fight off hordes who want to eat right away. Add potatoes, sliced or diced; replace cover. Stir now and then. Cover may be removed at long last to let potatoes brown a mite. Wash empty pan after supper.

You are certainly welcome, indeed. You try that, and you'll go to Canada next sugar season. * Canadian for pommes de terre.

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