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Celebrating and eating the Island’s onion heritage

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The St David’s Historical Society is hosting a weekend event guaranteed to be a real tear-jerker — the Island’s first ever Bermuda Onion Day.

“It is in recognition of an aspect of Bermuda’s heritage,” said Rick Spurling, Chairman and President of the St David’s Historical Society. “Onions play an important part in Bermuda’s heritage. Bermudians were nicknamed ‘onions’ at one point.”

In the 1800s Bermuda was known the world over for its onions which had a sweet, mild flavour. Unfortunately, Texas started to grow their own mild onions and shut down the Bermuda onion export market.

At Bermuda Onion Day, onion soup will be cooked over an open fire in an antique cauldron so folks can get an idea of what the soup would have tasted like hundreds of years ago. There will also be onion tarts, onion jam and pickled onion, among other treats.

“The strangest way to eat onions I’ve heard of was onions and peanut butter in a sandwich,” said Mr Spurling. “Major General Tim Hanson of the United States Marine Corps used to sail his yacht to Bermuda every year in the Newport to Bermuda Race. That’s how he liked his sandwiches. In his honour, we will have some peanut butter on hand during the day if other people want to try it this way.”

He said the traditional Bermuda onion is similar to a Vidalia onion.

“They are nice because they don’t burn your mouth out or make your nose curl up, like some types,” he said. “You can put it raw in sandwiches or you could eat them like an apple.”

If Bermuda Onion Day dices up nicely, it may become an annual occurrence. One of the reasons Carter House chose June 1 is that this is the season when onions are harvested. Mr Spurling and event co-organiser Ronnie Chameau are asking people to donate onions for the event, especially any home-grown onions. They also want people to bring in their favourite onion recipe. If they get enough recipes, they hope to put together a cookbook to sell next year.

The event will be on Saturday, June 1 at Carter House in St David’s from 10am to 4pm. For more information contact Mrs Chameau at mchameau@ibl.bm.

An Island treat: Bermuda Onion Tart
The onion is an important part of Bermuda's identity. On New Year's Eve in St George a golden onion is dropped to signal the arrival of the new year.
Onion trivia, and a recipe to try

l The Bermuda onion is known as the sweet red in the United States.

l The Bermuda onion is in the lily family, and like all lilies is toxic to your pets.

l An 1847 letter to

The Royal Gazette recommended Bermuda import Portuguese labour because they would apparently live almost entirely off of onions and potatoes.

l Eating onions is thought to reduce your risk for developing tumours in the colon.

l Store your onion in old nylon stockings and they will last for several months. Tie a knot after each onion so that it is isolated from the others. A plus with this method is that you can hang the onion filled stocking around your neck and keep away all vampires (and potential dates).

Bermuda Onion Tart

Ingredients

1 refrigerated 7.5oz piecrust at room temperature

2 medium Bermuda onions (also known as sweet reds).

6 oz cheese (Swiss will do but you could also try Jarlsberg)

3 large eggs

2 tsp all-purpose flour

¾ cup half and half

¼ tsp salt

⅛ tsp black pepper

Method

Preheat oven to 350F (176C). Place piecrust in a 12in tart pan with removable bottom. Press dough along the ridged sides. Set aside. Peel and slice onions into ¼in rings. Sprinkle half over the bottom of crust. Cut cheese into slices. Top with half cheese. It is fine if the cheese does not cover the onions. In a medium bowl, mix together eggs, flour, half and half, salt and black pepper. Mix well until frothy. Pour half the egg mixture over cheese. Layer remaining onion, cheese and lastly egg mixture. Bake uncovered for 50 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for five minutes. Lift from sides and serve.

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Published May 31, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 30, 2013 at 6:56 pm)

Celebrating and eating the Island’s onion heritage

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