Thursday, July 08, 2010

Harvesting and Processing Egyptian Walking Onion

I love my Egyptian onion patch. This heirloom perennial onion is one of my very favorite garden vegetables. I planted mine three years ago from starts I received in a swap. Egyptian walking onion is a topsetting onion. Instead of a flower, each plant sends up a center stalk that develops smaller onion bulbs (bulbils) on top. The bulbils will bend the onion stalk to the ground and then root in place, which is how they get the name "walking" onion.

Egyptian walking onion has many virtues:
  • It thrives on a steady diet of neglect. I do absolutely nothing to encourage mine to grow save pulling the occasional weed. I don't think it is possible to accidentally kill it.
  • It is the very first edible green I see in the garden each year. I've harvested greens while there was still snow on the ground.
  • It is prolific. My handful of bulbs has yielded more than we are able to replant and use.
  • All parts of the plant are edible -- the underground onion bulb, the greens, and the topsets (bulbils). 
  • It produces food in several seasons. There are green onions in the spring. In the summer the plants get too big and woody to use green, but you can harvest the bulbils or dig the bulbs. Mine usually die back when summer's heat gets intense, and then give another crop of green onions in the fall. You can also dig the underground bulb whenever you need or want it. 
  • It is easy to manage. If you are ambitious, you can dig it up each year, eat the underground onion bulbs and replant the bulbils. If you're less ambitious, you can just cut it back and use the greens and harvest the bulbils for eating or seed swapping. If you're like me, you can just ignore it except when you feel like harvesting some for dinner. 
This last approach may lead to the onion taking over a bit more of your suburban front yard than you planned -- which is why I spent a good chunk of time this past week harvesting and processing my Egyptain onion. My patch needed to be thinned and moved to a more out of the way place in the yard. This is the first time I've divided the patch in the three years I've been growing this onion. After digging everything up, I was able to harvest five pounds of usable parts: 2.75 pounds of bulbs and 2.25 pounds of bulbils. I've set aside some bulbils for replanting, some to send to friends, and the rest are set aside for seed swapping.

Here is a picture of the bulbs after being cleaned and peeled.

Because I did not cure the onion bulbs, I wanted to process them right away. I found a recipe for pickled onions on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website. I'd never eaten pickled onions before. But, several online sources mentioned that they were good in salads, on cheese sandwiches, and were served as a part of a traditional English ploughman's lunch. Sounded good to me!
Here is the finished pickle. This is not the greatest picture -- they look very pretty in the jar. The leftover bits I sampled tasted *very* good, too. I am looking forward to trying them with a cheese sandwich soon!
My messy kitchen, where all this canning goes on....


Katrien said...

I got the packet with the onions!!!! Thank you so much, there are so many of them, and they smell so good!
Can you tell me what to do now? Can I put them in the ground now or should I store them? I guess I should look it up... I just wanted to let you know they arrived safely and are in good and eager hands.
Would you be needing kale seeds? I've got HEAPS!

esp said...

I'm so glad they arrived safely! I would plant them now. Or, depending on your weather, you can wait until a bit of the summer heat has passed and plant them then. But, if they go in the ground now you should have greens to harvest before winter, and then more in early spring.

I would *love* some kale seeds -- something ate my two kale transplants. They were just getting to be big enough to take some leaves and then they were just gone. So frustrating!

Anonymous said...

I've had my walking onion growing in my backyard for three years. This year I let the top setting bulbils bend over and touch the ground, and yes, they do walk. The onions are very easy to grow, as you said. I suspected that all parts of the plant could be eaten, but wasn't sure. Had some bulbils in salad tonight and they were great.