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 Texas : Feature : Columns : "They shoe horses, don't they?"

Food

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.

THE VIDALIA ONION
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. ... More "Texas Onions">

John Troesser
 
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