An Ode to Allium

JUL14_chive-flowerOnion Genus, we cry for you when you’re with us, we weep for you when you are not.  At this time of year your bounty is poignant but slender, and all the more treasured for its fleeting flavour.  

The genus allium includes all the pong-flavoured vegetables you can think of:  big round onions, tall bunching onions, chives, shallots, garlic, and all the wonderful varieties of each.  Avoided by some people for their strong flavours (did you know that the latin “allium” is said to come from the Greek word for “avoid” because of its strong smell?) allium species are nonetheless mainstays of kitchens world-wide.

There are opportunities to enjoy those pong flavours from farmers and your own garden all spring if you’re interested.  Here are a couple of ways to satisfy your cravings, locally:

  • Start your onion plants indoors in the spring.  As they grow, give the plants “haircuts” every couple of weeks.  Trimming the green stalks of baby onions encourages them to form strong bulbs and stalks.  Save your trimmings, they’re about five times the strength of the chives you’ve been holding to your nose to catch that faint scent.  Use trimmings in salads, soups and chopped like chives as garnish.
  • Stock up in the fall and store over winter.  Kept cool, dry and well-ventilated, the storage onions and garlic our farmers and your garden can grow for you can last all winter.  This will require a dedicated little spot in your home, but the pleasure of smashing a hand-cultivated garlic clove in January and seeing the oils leak all over your knife is not to be sneezed at.
  • Freeze your garlic.  We recently watched someone pull a bag of cloves from their freezer, shuck the paper off one with the greatest of ease and proceed to trim the clove into a pot on the stove.  No drying, no loss of flavour – and what a great way to save bulbs with damaged cloves for later use!
  • JUL14-MHILL_scapeKeep chives.  One of the most pernicious, delicious perennials you can plant, well-established chives are darned hard to get rid of.  Pick a spot in your yard where they can hunker down beside a building and let them do their thing, or settle them in a garden box or even a deep planter.  Come fall you can cover it with straw to insulate the roots or ensure it gets a good covering of snow.  It will be one of the first things to green come spring and you can start enjoying an appetizer to the true allium experience that will come with your onions and garlic.
  • Eat your garlic scapes.  Renata Weber from Mile Hill Farms is bringing hers to Market now if you’re not growing your own.  Scapes are the flower that each garlic plant produces come spring.  Garlic farmers like Renata remove it so the plant’s energy goes into making a bulb instead of seed, and like the onion trimmings you saved in the spring scapes can be used as an ingredient in salads or hot dishes or as a garnish, or as garlic scape pesto.  Stay tuned – we’ll post the recipe tomorrow and you can try this one yourself!
  • Pickle your garlic, like they do at H&P Jams & Jellies.
  • Dry your garlic, like Renata does at Mile Hill Farms. 
  • Make allium-flavoured condiments like Chive Flower Vinegar. (see below for this one)

Garlic scapes and early spring onions are now arriving at the Market.  Bring some mints!

JUL14_chive-vinegarChive Flower Vinegar

You will need:

  • pint or half-pint Mason jars
  • white vinegar, although white wine vinegar works too
  • fresh-cut chive flowers snipped close to the head

Wash your chive flowers the same way you would salad greens, delicately, and spin or tap them dry.  The more flowers you place in each jar, the stronger your flavour will be, so pack them fairly tightly into your jars, as far as they’ll go.  Estimate the amount of vinegar you’ll need to fill the jars you’ve stuffed with flowers and heat it in a saucepan on the stove until it is hot but not boiling.

If you’re concerned about putting the hot vinegar into cool jars you can follow standard canning practices and heat your jars in the oven or in boiling water first, or take a short-cut by putting a little water into the bottom of each jar and microwaving them till they’re fairly hot to the touch.  Remove the water, add the chive flowers and pour your hot vinegar overtop, filling the jar and pushing down any floating flowers.

Let your vinegar steep for about two weeks.  In the meantime, make sure you display it somewhere people will see it – it makes a great conversation starter and looks gorgeous on a shelf!  Once the flavour has developed, strain your lavender-tinted vinegar through a fine strainer and enjoy.  Chive Flower Vinegar makes French fries taste out of this world and contributes an amazing flavour to vinaigrette dressings for salads.

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