Onion Planting, Onion Rings
The perfect onion ring, is crisp on the outside and tender and juicy inside. It has to be made fresh - freezing onion rings ruins the texture and the flavor. And those onion “blossoms” that were popular a few years back in restaurants, don’t cut it, either. They tend to be overdone on the tips, and gooey and uncooked in the bottom center of the onion.
The best onion rings I have ever eaten were at the Pioneer Drive-In Restaurants in Wichita Falls, Texas. At that time there were 6 or 8 P restaurants in that local chain, known lovingly as P-3, P-9, and so on. I was stationed there in the Air Force between 1968 and 1972, and found I could order onion rings to go, keep them in the barracks and have them for breakfast the next day. Really, I did. The good thing about them was, they weren’t greasy, and the crispy coating was still crispy the next morning. I tried numerous times to bribe the waitresses for the recipe and all they would ever tell me was that the secret amounted to 2 things: the onions were soaked in milk overnight, and that the batter included cracker meal.
I’ve tried many times over the years to concoct a similar onion ring, without success. I’ve tried making the batter with part cornstarch and flour, including cracker meal. I reject any recipes that contain baking powder, which make a puffy, but not truly crisp ring. I’ve also learned the best liquid to use with the batter is buttermilk. It makes a more crisp-cooking batter than either plain milk or water, which is what a lot of the recipes call for. The best recipe eludes me, but if you have one that is exceptional, and without baking powder and not with bread crumbs, I’d be pleased if you’d share it.
Sonic Drive-Ins have had pretty good onion rings over the years. They actually make them fresh everyday. The trouble with Sonic is they cook a lot of onions rings at once, then when they get an order, they dip them in the oil again. What you get is an over-cooked ring, often burned, or the onion inside is just a shadow.
Texas Super Sweet is bred to grow in a Southwestern climate, just like the Walla-Walla is best grown in the Pacific Northwest. Those varieties were developed for those climates.
Every year I order my onions from Dixondale Farms, in Texas. I found them on-line because I had become frustrated at the seed companies that will only, “Ship at the proper planting time for your area.” Consistently seed companies think they know more about my region than I do. If I order from them, I’ll only be able to receive my onions, leeks and potatoes, in late March or early April, which is nearly 2 months too late for my region. Dixondale Farms provides a great guide to what onions grow best in your region, and they take the guesswork and mystery out of the Long-Day, Intermediate-Day and Short-Day onion varieties.
To solve the early delivery date problem, I found Dixondale Farms were happy to send my onion plants any time of year I want. That means I can get my onions planted in late January. The problem with potatoes is similar, most potato suppliers won’t ship to home gardeners before mid March. If I wait that late to plant potatoes in the Ozarks, I have potato beetles. Planting in early February means I miss the cycle of potato beetles completely! So I order my potatoes from Wood Prairie Farm in Maine. They don’t blink an eye when I say I want to receive my potatoes before the first of February.
Wood Prairie is offering something really cool this year and I can’t wait to try it. They have an assortment of best flowering potatoes! It’s called the “Organic Potato Blossom Festival” and is an assortment of 3 mid season varieties of potatoes that are known for their good blooming. Just like any other potato, when the vines die down, you dig up the potato crop. But a bed of potato flowers? I just couldn’t pass that up!
So I continue on my quest for the perfect onion ring. Not with a crumb coating, not a tempura battered onion with baking powder, but the equivalent of the Kentucky Fried Chicken extra-crispy coating, on a sweet, tender onion. Suggestions are welcome!
And one more bit of news to share. We just received this great picture from our summer intern, from Switzerland, a few years ago. This is Martin Amstutz and his newborn daughter, Lisa. What a proud papa and we're very happy for him. (Several of my relatives will remember Martin at the Harper family reunion I hosted here at the farm about 1998 and how everyone was charmed by him).
Snow is falling tonight, it hardly feels like potato and onion planting time, but within a few days, it will be. And Ozarks tradition dictates that peas be planted on Valentine's Day. Spring will come again, we can be sure of it. Happy gardening!