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The Poor Man’s Truffle

“My own remedy is always to eat, just before I step into bed, a hot roasted onion, if I have a cold.” —George Washington, First US President.

It is not easy for my 10-year-old daughter to make friends.

Even though she is very adventurous (embracing the opportunity to travel to a different land, culture & school) and very brave, (will not back down to any bully at school) … she is a bit of a loner, preferring to go it alone/her own way vs. putting the effort out to be the social chameleon, or compromise character to fit in.

And, what doesn’t seem to help her in the friend making business is her eating of the ‘truffle of the poor’.  This venerable creature I’m speaking about is ‘The Onion’.  Promptly at 9am, her first break at school, my Little One will usually pull out her supply of red onions and begin to munch the raw onions I packed as a snack for her.

THIS LOVE OF THE ONION RUNS IN THE FAMILY

Country folk will eat the big dinner at noon in the old country (& probably Wis and MN farms too) and the meal is initiated with the rich, savory onion as key ingredient to most stews and goulashes.  Onions gives depth to any meal.

Back in Screen Village, Wexford County, Ireland; for supper, my father will eat a raw onion, with a tomato, a slice of his homemade Irish soda bread, a chunk of bleu cheese and a mug of tea. Knock out breath reminiscent of “Mr. Yuck in mean, Mr. Yuck is greeeeeeeeen” from the 1970s poison control TV ads.  

While picking up my children from King of Kings preschool few years ago in the afternoon, I’d have to cover my mouth while greeting and speaking with moms and dads…promising myself and the folks I greeted almost daily that tomorrow I would NOT put those onions in my lunch.  I never could keep the promise…and I ended up apologizing most days. On more than just the isolated occasion, my husband found the “just ate onions” about as ubiquitous as the “got a headache” amongst the female postponement  oriented lexicon.

Now, between my daughter & I, we can scarf down delights such as pickles, Doritos, tuna salad, liverwurst, bleu cheese, raw garlic and of course a couple of onions at any sitting AND I’ve discovered and started to live with the idea …why hedge the system when you can simply ID significant people in one’s life that eat equally malodorous things. Misery surely does love company. I mean, when a barfly is swimmin’ drunk, the smell of gut rot tequila upon your breath is, to the souse, not one bit offensive now is it?

During the American Civil War an onion shortage prompted General Ulysses S. Grant to send a telegram to the War Department, "I will not move my army without onions." He was immediately shipped three train cars full of onions. In addition to using onions to spice up meals, it was believed the onion had antiseptic properties that could treat wounds.  The Egyptians had great belief in the powers of the Onion.  They theorized that onion’s strong scent had magical powers that would prompt the dead to breathe again.  My daughter’s onion breath would rise any aould devil from the dead too.

As a metaphor for life, people often use the onion to speak about peeling away another layer of the onion. Paradoxically, it is perhaps more fitting that we usually only peel away 1 or 2 layers before we chop, dice, and gobble it down without much contemplation.

WE SOUGHT THE ONION TO HEAL IN WOODBURY TOO.

My son at about age 6 or 7 years of age felt his heart fluttering after playing hard at Potawatomi Park.  He picked up his bike and pleaded for all of us to leave our friend’s house and get home. After inquiring more, he, like Ulysses Grant, believed he needed to get a supply of onions ingested pronto; come hell or high water, for healing’s sake. So, heeding the child, we headed home with the little mite clutching his heart. He, sounding like the Godfather with his smoky voice, ‘got to get to the onions’.  He peddled with fierce enough effort to burst open most any ventricle; and only focused on eating a supply of raw onions to avoid a pending heart attack.  This is, of course, anecdotal, but by heck; myocardial infarction averted…  case closed!

Even though the cause of the discomfort was more than likely a stitch in the side, I was pleased that the little man believed that the onion offered such prompt butler service to the heart and body.  My job was done. The rearing in the area of self-healing and self-sufficiency was done.

A LITTLE RESPECT FOR THE LORD OF THE RINGS

With only 30 calories for an average onion, they contain potassium, fiber, and foliate, as well as the flavonoid quercetin, which helps eliminate free radicals that may contribute to eye degeneration, the aging process, heart disease, and cancer.  They are a good source of Vitamin C.  They are fat free, cholesterol free, and sodium free.

Onions are bulbs, closely related to the lily family, garlic, shallots, and chives. The most common types, from sweet to sharp, are red, yellow (also known as Spanish), and white.  Then there is the scallion and leeks.  Yum!  And, best of all, they are so easy to grow.  They store very well for a long time.  I learned while in the onion capital of the country; Vidalia, Georgia, that the best way to store that onion, is in a nylon stocking.

The official state vegetable of Georgia is the Vidalia onion.  The official state vegetable of Texas is the Texas Sweet onion.  Yellow onions make up more than 75% of the world's production of onions. Folks in the U.S. first started experimenting with onion rings in the 1920s. A&W drive-ins made them a part of their menu in the ‘60s and folks were hooked.

We once lived close to Vidalia, GA – home to the Vidalia Onion.  I loved trips to the Onion Heaven.  It is quite the operation.  On visits home to MN I’d meet distant relatives at restaurants and throw a bag of sweet, delicious Vidalia Onions on the table as gifts.  Minnesota folks would perhaps be more charmed with a peck of sweet corn or a silk scarf, but I figured, “What else do ya need?!”

In our house, only my daughter and I can eat them raw, the other members prefer them cooked or fried.  I like to cook them for a long time over low to medium heat enabling gentle sweating - collapsing the onion into an inevitable heap of rounded, translucent sweetness.  On occasion I’ll add a little sugar in the sautéing method to aid carmalization. 

My husband will just laugh when I cut a red onion in half and stare.  What a sensation. I’m no Renoir but I believe you should rave about the architecture of the onion. (That is if you can see it through the tears due to the sulfuric compounds in the onion that makes your eyes tear when cutting)  The Egyptians believed that its spherical shape and concentric rings symbolized eternity.  In old English folklore, the thickness of an onion skin can help predict the severity of the winter. A thin skin predicts a mild winter while a thick skin indicates a rough winter. This doesn’t work as accurately on friends, as once I stole a thick skinned onion from a friend that still remains inconsolable over the whole affair.

Renoir was an expert in putting a heightened emphasis on the visual arts.  He would turn a seemingly less than lovely vegetable into a voluptuous entity, he would make onions appear to be precious objects in brown papery skins.  I love those papery skins – delicate, yet so protective [and a great source for egg coloring at Easter if you boil the egg with the skins].

 ‘TIS A TOUGH CALL

Now, people like my daughter and I may choose the onion’s characteristics over you and your family’s personal preference for the rutabaga or butternut squash. But don’t hate us for it. There are far more severe alternatives. Next time you have a chance; drink black coffee, smoke a cigarette and then don’t eat or drink anything for 3 hours – it marinates that coffee / tobacco mix. Then, go breath on your best friend. Not only have you revealed my nasal sensory memoirs regarding speaking with school teachers an hour after their last coffee break; but you have also made onion breath a much sought after consolation.   

Oh, I don’t know. I’ve heard that some Buddhist monks swear that to eat the onion raw causes irritability of temper and to eat them cooked is to create an aphrodisiac. So, if you’re a Buddhist monk living in Nirvana; you had better, perhaps go the path of the raw or none at all, dear grasshopper.  

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