Now there are the onions, and then there are the onions. Some people like onions. Others hate them. Sweet onions baked in butter, and even caramelized with mushrooms, are the cat’s meow. Raw red onions? Not in my plate.
Onions have a fairly rich history. It is believed that wild plants began to be cultivated in Pakistan or China almost 5,000 years ago. In the beginning, onions were an object of worship. King Ramses IV was buried with onions in his eye sockets. At the first Olympics in Greece, athletes drank onion juice and smeared themselves with onions before the big event. In this country, Native Americans seasoned their food with wild onions long before pilgrims brought onion plants from England.
Although they are rarely mentioned in outdoor storytelling, onions have always featured prominently in my outdoor experiences.
During my deer hunts over the years, the lunch break with the Seboeis Skulkers always included a hot lunch with hot dogs and onions, lots of onions. We took turns putting lunch preparations in a box each day, as well as the cast iron frying pan. One year, the onions were left by the Skulker who had lunch that day. To this day, it remains an object of contempt and ridicule whenever the tailgate lowers and the Vidalia onions are sliced and diced in hot butter.
A few years ago in Elk Land, after living five days of instant oatmeal and freeze-dried mountain meals, the Lord provided in the most unexpected way. While walking along a horse trail at the end of the day, one of our campmates, Greg Goodman, spotted a light colored orb on the trail in front of him. “My God,” he said to himself, picking it up, “it’s an ONION, and a Vidalia too! “
For backpackers – who all strive to travel light – an onion is a luxury our weight limits could never afford. But fighters who transport hunters and supplies on mule trains to nailed tents in the high country are not subject to such parameters. Six packs of beer and a bag of onions are part of the offer for hunters who can reverse the cost of the guided hunt. Somehow, a big, sturdy Vidalia onion bounced off the saddlebag of a pack mule and ended up in our possession.
Back at camp among the aspens, we ceremoniously cut up this precious find and slowly cooked it in olive oil over an open fire. Unless you’ve been there, you can’t know how delicious this onion was when it graced our private palates.
Speaking of campfires, try this one if you’re looking for a culinary change of pace in outdoor cooking: smear a large, sweet onion with olive oil and sprinkle with pepper. Wrap the onion in aluminum foil and cook it for an hour on a grill over open heat.
So, raise your glasses and toast to the onion, and its venerable and vaunted place in the great outdoors. And a special drink to Georgian farmer Mose Coleman, who created the Vidalia onion by agricultural luck in County Toombs in 1931.
V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal, author, guide to Maine, and host of a weekly radio show, “Maine Outdoors,” which airs at 7 pm Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. Contact him at [email protected]