The opinion on onions

by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on Jul 20, 2011 - 04:41 PM

Photo: Having harvested his crop of onions, Bobby Stewart and his 18-month-old granddaughter, Evelyn Welsh, his helper, look over the bounty as it dries.  The table is full of giant onions harvested from approximately 400 plants in three varieties that were planted this spring. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day.

Having harvested his crop of onions, Bobby Stewart and his 18-month-old granddaughter, Evelyn Welsh, his helper, look over the bounty as it dries. The table is full of giant onions harvested from approximately 400 plants in three varieties that were planted this spring. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day.

Cooks all over the world would be bewildered without the onion; and Bobby Stewart has made sure there will be no bewilderment for his family, friends and neighbors. Since the beginning of civilization, onions have been an important part of our diets. Because of the onion’s tissue makeup, there is no conclusive opinion about the exact location and time of its birth. Many researchers believe onions originated in central Asia; others suggest they were first grown in Iran and western Pakistan.

While the place and time of the onion’s birth is still a mystery, there are many early documents that describe its importance as a food and its use in art, medicine and mummification. Translations of Babylonian cuneiform tablets at Yale University Library reveal recipes using onions, leeks and garlic.

Known facts are that onions were growing in Chinese gardens some 5,000 years ago and in Egypt, onions were actually an object of worship. They symbolized eternity. A basket of onions was considered a very respectable funeral offering. By 500 B.C., onions were a common peasant food in Greece. Onions played a role during the period of Alexander the Great. He believed that eating onions made you strong, and he fed them to his armies. After Rome captured Greece, the onion became a staple in the Roman diet. Gladiators were rubbed down with onion juice to "firm up the muscles."

By the Middle Ages the three main vegetables of Europe cuisine were beans, cabbage and onions. In addition to serving as a food for both the poor and the wealthy, onions were prescribed to alleviate headaches, snakebites and hair loss. They were also used as rent payment and as wedding gifts.