Onions, like most vegetables, thrive in rich organic soil. Prior to planting, work 2 to 4 in. (5 to 10 cm) of compost or humus into the soil. Plant onion plants 4 to 6 inches apart.
Try to be careful about the fertilizers you use for onions. Onions tend to be more pungent when grown on soils with a high sulfur content. Choose a nitrate-based fertilizer over a sulfate-based fertilizer. Ask your local garden center expert for the right fertilizer. The fertilizer bag, even on all-purpose fertilizers, 12-24-12 for example, may indicate the components used to formulate the fertilizer.
Onions may need lots of moisture at the beginning, but less when the bulbs are approaching full size. When the tops begin to fall over naturally, it's time to pull the onions up.
Members of the onion family generally give a very obvious signal when they are ready to harvest. The tops fall over and the tips of the leaves start to turn brown. In addition, the bulbs are full size. Pull the onions, shake off any soil, but do not wash them or pull off any outside wrapper leaves.
Store them in a cool, dry, shaded area to cure for several days or up to 2 weeks if the weather is dry and not too hot. Then clip off the roots and tops leaving about one inch of the stem and brush off any remaining soil.
Store the onions in a very cool place (your basement or even an old refrigerator) trying to keep them between 35 and 55°F (1 and 12°C). The closer to 35 degrees the less chance the onions will sprout. Check your onions occasionally and use the ones showing signs of sprouting or softening right away. With good storage, your onion crop should last most of the winter.
Onions are used in just about everything except ice cream. However, there's no more traditional use than in onion soup.
To make onion soup, you'll need 4 cups of thinly sliced onions sautéed very slowly (30-45 minutes) in a 1/2 stick of butter. Next add three 10 1/2-ounce cans of beef bouillon and season with salt and pepper. We like to use a dash or more of Creole Seasoned Salt for added flavor, but be careful, as regular bouillon can be really salty. It might be a good idea to start with a low-sodium bouillon and add just pepper at first. Taste before adding additional salt. Chicken or vegetable stock can be used instead of beef bouillon.
Let the soup simmer for about an hour, then ladle into generous-sized, oven-safe bowls with a piece of garlic toast in the bottom. Finally, add a slice of mozzarella or provolone cheese and put the bowls under the broiler to melt the cheese. Serve with a heaping platter of garlic toast and warn your guests about the hot bowls.
Bulbing onions probably originated in the region of the world now known as Pakistan. The Egyptians were said to have built the pyramids on a diet that included a generous supply of onions. Onions have been an important food item in Egypt since 3200 BC.
Onions came to the New World with the Spaniards and shortly thereafter we discovered how great they were in sour cream and on a hamburger. The rest is history.