Onions outdoors

Now there are onions, and then there are onions. Some people love onions. Others hate ’em. Sweet onions cooked in butter, and even caramelized with mushrooms, are the cat’s meow. Raw red onions? Not on my plate.

Onions have quite a storied history. It’s believed that the wild ones began to be cultivated either in Pakistan or China nearly 5,000 years ago. Early on, onions were an object of worship. King Ramses IV was entombed with onions in his eye sockets. During the first Olympic Games in Greece, athletes drank onion juice and slathered themselves with onions before the big event. In this country, Native Americans were flavoring their food with wild onions long before the Pilgrims brought onion seedlings here from England.

Although they rarely get mentioned much in outdoor storytelling, onions have always had a prominent place in my outdoor experiences.

During my deer hunts over the years, lunch break with the Skulkers of Seboeis always included a hot tailgate lunch featuring hot dogs and onions, lots of onions. We took turns putting the lunch makings in a box each day, along with the cast iron fry pan. One year, the onions were left behind by the Skulker who had lunch duty that day. To this day, he remains an object of scorn and ridicule whenever the tailgate comes down and the Vidalia onions are sliced and diced in the warming butter.

A few years ago, in elk country after living off instant oatmeal and freeze-dried mountain meals for five days, 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 goodness,” he said to himself picking it up, “it’s an onion, and a Vidalia to boot!”

For backpackers — all of whom strive to travel light — an onion is a luxury that our weight limits would never afford. But the wranglers who transport hunters and supplies on mule trains to spike tents in the high country are under no such parameters. Six-packs of beer and a bag of onions are part of the deal for hunters who can swing the cost of the guided hunt. Somehow, some way a big, robust Vidalia onion bounced out of a pack mule’s pannier and wound up in our possession.

Back at camp among the aspens, we ceremoniously sliced up that precious find and slow-cooked it in olive oil over an open fire. Unless you were there you just can’t know how wonderfully delicious that onion tasted when it graced our deprived palates.

Speaking of campfires, try this one if you are looking for a culinary change of pace in outdoor cooking: Coat a big sweet onion with olive oil and sprinkle with pepper. Wrap the onion in foil and cook it for an hour on a grill over an open fire.

So, lift your glasses and drink a toast to the onion, and its venerable and vaunted place in the great outdoors. And a special clink of your glass to Georgia farmer Mose Coleman, who created the Vidalia onion by a farming fluke in Toombs County in 1931.

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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