Walla Walla - Washington/Oregon
Grown in Walla Walla County in southeastern Washington and a part of Umatilla County in northeastern Oregon. Seed originated in Italy, then was transplanted to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, where a French soldier, Peter Pieri, enamored of the onion's sweet taste and juicy flesh, carried some of the seeds with him to the Walla Walla Valley in the late 1800s. Pieri's fellow immigrants soon began raising the onions too, and established the Walla Walla Gardener's Association (a cooperative of local onion growers) in 1916.
Availability: mid-June to mid-August.
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Walla Walla Time
Of the silver screen's greatest dancing duo, who was the better dancer? Well, the joke goes, it would have been Fred Astaire, except Ginger Rogers performed the same steps backwards, and in heels.
That's sort of how I view the age-old rivalry between two of the nation's best known sweet onions, Vidalias and Walla Walla Sweets. The Georgia-bred Vidalia is undeniably a tasty morsel. But in the temperate winters of southeast Georgia, where the thermometer lingers obligingly in the 50's and 60's, who wouldn't turn out sweet?
The Walla Walla, on the other hand, offers the same sweet performance, better in fact, only under far more adverse conditions. After all, they grow at almost 1000 feet above sea level and tough it out through Pacific Northwest winters that typically dip down into the low 20's.
Backwards and in heels.
Now whether or not the Walla Walla Sweet is as sweet - or sweeter - than the Vidalia and other sweet varieties is debatable. But it does have a great name as well as an impressive pedigree which can be traced back to the late 1800's when Peter Pieri brought the original seed stock to Washington's Walla Walla Valley from the isle of Corsica. Once settled in, Pieri began his selective breeding process to obtain the kind of onion a public relations firm could build an entire ad campaign around.
Of course, if the product hadn't lived up to its press year after year, it wouldn't matter how charming its name was, it simply wouldn't sell. But it does, because it is, indeed, delicious. In fact, your main concern should be to make the most of the Walla Walla Sweet while the making is good, because, like all sweet onions, they just don't stick around very long. With a season beginning in mid June, and running through mid- to late-August, their high moisture and sugar content make them fragile. Under the best of storage conditions - cool and dry - they have a shelf life of only 2 to 3 weeks from time of harvest.
© 1999. Jan Roberts-Dominguez
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Walla Walla Gardener's Association