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Hunter: Braiding Onions

09/07/10 5:55PM By Edith Hunter
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(HOST)  Given the right conditions, onions can be stored well into the winter.  Commentator Edith Hunter employs a traditional method of harvesting onions that is both practical and decorative.     

(HUNTER)  Back when I planted my own onions, I planted them next to those of my daughter-in-law, Susan.  At the end of the growing season hers were always much larger than mine. One year I suggested that I buy all the onion sets and she plant all the onions. This has been our practice ever since, and the onions are a wonder to behold.

Charlie, the chief gardener, makes sure they are planted in a different location each year, and he improves the soil with compost prior to any planting. Charlie put in red onions beyond the yellow ones that Susan planted.

This year Susan began harvesting the first of the yellow onions the last week of July. When the tops fall over, it is a sign that the onions are ready to be pulled.  We always lay the onions out on my sunny east facing porch so the tops can dry thoroughly before I begin braiding them. Susan laid them out in neat rows and I figured there were about 200 out there. There are still more in the garden, and the red onions are still growing.

I began braiding them in the first week of August. Sixty years ago when we lived in Mansfield, Massachusetts, I had an Italian neighbor who taught me how to braid them. I cut a piece of twine about 2 feet long, select 21 of the onions of various sizes, and get to work. Taking three of the largest, I braid the dry tops, tie the end of the string around the braid next to the onions, pull it tight, and cut the braid off about two inches from the end of the onions.

I select the three largest onions for the first bunch, and select onions of an increasingly small size as I work up the string, three at a time. In this way, when a string of onions is hanging in the kitchen, I will have a variety of sizes to chose among. I'll probably hang the red onions separately.

The boys hung all the strings of onions from the nails along the porch rafters. When cold weather comes, they will move them into the "vase room" which is in an unheated part of the house. The old coat rack that came from my parents home is in there with its numerous hooks, waiting to receive the onions. Net bags of garlic have already been placed on the lower shelves of the room, and finally, bags and bags of potatoes will join them. We started early to reach under the potato plants for the first delicious red Pontiac potatoes.
After harvesting the rest of the yellow onions I ended up with fourteen strings, so there are probably about 250 hanging out on the porch. Soon the red onions will join them.
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