They say you never forget your first time.
And for me, that’s true. I had no idea it could be like that.
My first sweet onion was a firm, juicy Vidalia. I lived in the South at the time. Down there, Georgia onions rule.
A co-worker offered me one. I told her that I was not wild about onions. She said it wasn’t just an onion. It was, she insisted, a reason for getting out of bed in the morning.
I accepted the gift and used a slice in a sandwich. It was either turkey or ham. Or maybe roast beef. I don’t recall. What I remember is the onion.
The mildly acidic, almost verdant flavor was a revelation. It was assertively pungent, but without sting.
That was in the early ‘80s. Since then, I’ve consumed maybe 500 sweet onions. The vast majority have been Vidalias and Walla Walla Sweets. But I’ve tried plenty of pretenders. You know, the ones hailing from Texas, California and Chile.
If, in the chill of January, I saw something in a produce bin billed as a sweet onion from the planet Neptune, I’d probably grab it. For those of us hooked on the layered white bulb’s tangy, cool sizzle, it can be a long time between summers.
Still, Walla Wallas and Vidalias are dependable. They won’t bite your head off. They take turns being my favorite variety.
All the rest are like blind dates. Some make you smile. Others, well, we’ve all had our share of tears.
There are numerous ways to eat them. But if you don’t feel like going to lots of trouble on a hot day, you can keep it simple.
Here’s what I do: Take two slices of so-fresh-it-still-feels-wet white bread. Slather on more mayonnaise than is reasonable. Stack up several thin slices of ripe tomato. Then add the sweet onion. For real crunch, use one or two thick, center-cut slices from a large onion.
Sometimes I toss on a little lettuce. Then, before closing up, sprinkle on coarse-ground pepper. Serves one. (Be sure to have plenty of paper towels handy.)
Beer, buttermilk and freshly squeezed orange juice all make good accompaniments. Also, you might want to toss onto your plate a handful of vinegar-flavored potato chips.
It’s my seasonal staple. Has been for years. And I’ll tell you why.
Chomping into a perfect sweet onion sandwich is like taking a bite out of a fantasy garden of grown-up flavor. It tastes like summer.
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