TexasEscapes.com HOME Welcome to Texas Escapes
A magazine written by Texas
Custom Search
New   |   Texas Towns   |   Ghost Towns   |   Counties   |   Trips   |   Features   |   Columns   |   Architecture   |   Images   |   Archives   |   Site Map


Texas Onions

Turning Bermudas into Vidalias
with a Little Help from Cotulla

by John Troesser

"The world would be a boring place without the onion."
- Julia Child
It may come as a surprise (readers who are easily surprised may find themselves astounded) that the Onion is Texas' leading vegetable crop. You were thinking maybe spinach? Tomatoes? Cantaloupe? No. It is, in truth, the lowly but tasty little onion that brings in $70 to $100 million per year. Furthermore, when all onion related activities are factored in - like crating, trucking, harvesting and putting all those little stickers on each onion, the industry has a $350 million per year impact on the Texas economy.

It's generally accepted that sweet onion production in Texas can be traced back to a single packet of seed from Bermuda being planted near Cotulla in 1898. It's also acknowledged that the Canary Islands (Teneriffe Island,in particular) was the main supplier of onion seed up until 1946. Most atlases show the Bermuda Islands and the Canary Islands to be something like 2,700 miles apart. This discrepancy doesn't seem to bother most Texans: " Canary? Bermuda? What's the difference? Just make sure there's enough for the chili."
Packing Bermuda Onions - Texas Gulf Coast Country
"Packing Bermuda Onions - Texas Gulf Coast Country
Reached by Rock-Island Frisco Lines"

Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
Readers wanting to investigate further may find that the onion known as "Bermuda" was first listed on a manifest in 1888 as "White Bermuda" by exporters of the time. D. Landreth &;Co., stated that "although [the onion is] known as a product of Bermuda, is of Italian origin."

Meanwhile, back in Cotulla:
Those first Cotulla-raised onions found themselves shipped to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The people of Milwaukee have always appreciated good beer, sausage and onions. When they ate those Texas onions they went wild. Word was sent back to Cotulla: "Milwaukee needs onions!" Immediately Cotullans started removing cactus and began planting more Bermudas.

In 1907 over a thousand boxcar-loads of onions were shipped from Southwest Texas. The following year production doubled and in 1917 nearly 7,000 boxcar loads were shipped. The record for a single season was just over 10,164 boxcar loads (1946) which was enough onions to fill the Roman Coliseum up to the brim and still fill half of the broom closets in the Vatican.

The Canary Island farmers could barely keep up with the Texas demand for onion seed. On top of this strain, inexperienced growers anxious to cash in on the seed bonanza make mistakes, seriously decreasing the quality of seed. This forced Texans to import seed from Spain and from this new source (in the mid 1920s) came the variety known as Grano.

"The Mother of All Sweet Onions"

Grano arrived in Texas about the time an onion-breeding program in the Rio Grande Valley was in development. In 1933 the Texas Grano 502 came into being - an onion that is known in onion circles today as "The Mother of All Sweet Onions"

Grano 502's name comes from the original field number of 502, however, the onion was officially known as the "Texas Early Grano." Since its introduction , this variety has been grown as far away as Palestine (Israel - not Texas) and Australia.


Toombs County, Georgia is acknowledged to be the birthplace of the Vidallia Onion. Georgia had been having a problem with weeds that were growing faster than the locally planted onion sets. Texas transplants, it was hoped, would give the farmers a much-needed head start and so Texas Granex onions from Carrizo Springs (near Cotulla) were shipped there in 1952.

Mose Coleman, a Georgia farmer discovered one day that his onions lacked the expected characteristic bite. The onion's mildness is attributed to the soil found in a 20 county area. (Only onions grown in these counties - or selected parts of a few others can market onions under the Vidalia name.)

Farmer Coleman had a hard time at first convincing people to bite into his onions, but when they did they became believers. Soon it seemed that everyone in Southern Georgia was growing sweet mild onions.

In 1952, Vidalia was a small Georgia town that wasn't famous for anything in particular. It was a junction of two major highways, however, and hosted a farmer's market that did a good business with tourists going and coming from Florida. These produce buying tourists spread the word about these onions and soon magazine ads appeared (right next to the mail order Chihuahuas in teacups). The name Vidalia was being fused with the "world's sweetest onion."

Memphis based Piggly Wiggly Markets started handling them by name in the 50s and 60s and onion festivals in Vidalia and nearby Glennville, Georgia pushed awareness.

Production increased tenfold in ten years and soon 14,000 acres were in cultivation. Georgia's Vidalia harvest brings in $50 million annually.

© John Troesser April 3, 2004 Column

Related articles:
  • Tasty Texas Ingenuity by Clay Coppedge
    T.C. Nye, George Copp and the Texas Onion. If Texas weren't already so well known for commodities like cows, cotton and corn, we might be known instead for our onions, the state's number one vegetable crop. The sweet yellow Bermuda onions that connoisseurs like to say "you can eat like an apple" originated here by way of the Canary Islands... more
  • The Famous Texas 1015 Sweet Onion Cartoon by Roger T. Moore

    More Texas Food























    Texas Escapes Online Magazine »   Archive Issues » Home »
    Texas Counties
    Texas Towns A-Z
    Texas Ghost Towns

    Central Texas North
    Central Texas South
    Texas Gulf Coast
    Texas Panhandle
    Texas Hill Country
    East Texas
    South Texas
    West Texas

    Rooms with a Past

    Gas Stations
    Post Offices
    Water Towers
    Grain Elevators
    Cotton Gins

    Vintage Photos
    Historic Trees
    Old Neon
    Ghost Signs
    Pitted Dates
    Then & Now

    Columns: History/Opinion
    Texas History
    Small Town Sagas
    Black History
    Texas Centennial

    Texas Railroads

    Texas Trips
    Texas Drives
    Texas State Parks
    Texas Rivers
    Texas Lakes
    Texas Forts
    Texas Trails
    Texas Maps

    Site Map
    About Us
    Privacy Statement
    Contact Us

    Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes LLC. All Rights Reserved