Hefting this week's groceries, Bryan told me, "They didn't have any spring onions at the supermarket. The lady told me they only had shallots."
I didn't panic, even though this weekend's curry puffs need the crunch of fresh spring onion, not the subtle sweetness of shallots. Firstly, we do have spring onions in the garden that could be used at a pinch, though as this recipe uses the bases, that would mean pulling the whole plant up, whereas now I can just pick the tops and my spring onions stay perennial.
Secondly, I was pretty sure 'the lady at the supermarket' was wrong. Those long, green-stemmed veg Bryan had brought home were the actually spring onions I'd asked for.
Few supermarkets sell shallots, though they often confuse shallots and spring onions. Shallots are small brown or white gourmet bulbs that are fussy to peel and chop and sauté, but have an incomparable sweetness and onion flavour. Shallots are also easy to grow, and simple to store, even if preparing enough of them for the perfect beef cheeks in red wine is a chore. Plant shallot bulbs now, and they will slowly multiply if you keep them weed free. You can use the finely chopped green tops in winter, and then dig up the bulbs in summer - or most of them, leaving the others to grow more shallots.
Spring onions have long green stems and their bases have never quite worked out how to grow into an onion. They can be planted any time of the year, including now. Spring onions are excellent chopped into salads or stir fried - or in any dish where you want an onion crunch but not the full-strength onion.
Onions, on the other hand - well, we all know onions, fat and pungent. Onion seeds and seedlings are best planted in winter, but can still be planted now till about mid-August. The ones in shops come in red, white or brown. The ones in packets or punnets come in hundreds of delicious flavours, from sulphuric acid savage Hunter River Brown to the flat and mild Odourless onion, ultra-sweet Pukehoe that keeps extremely well, or tender Spanish Red or Red Barletta that can be eaten thinly sliced and raw.
Bryan also bought a bunch of chives this week, as chives die down in winter. Garlic chives don't, but they are a bit tough, and do taste of garlic. Chives are tender, perennial, and your chive clumps will emerge as soon as the weather warms up again. Meanwhile, I will finely chop the bases of the spring onions, but not the tops, which can be tough. Instead I will mooch up to the top vegetable garden and return with handfuls of greens, once more The Lady of Shallots.
This week I am:
- Probably planting more spring onions, if I can find some seedlings.
- Admiring what an expert woodworker has done with a hunk of our old cherry tree. If you ever chop down big old fruit trees, remember their wood can be valuable. It makes stunning furniture, spoons, bowls, boxes, knife handles etc.
- Trying to get the courage to ask Bryan to cut down a kiwi fruit vine on one side, and a chestnut branch on the other, leaving a mess of about 1 tonne of debris on the track below to be dealt with - somehow.
- Vowing to prune our kiwi fruit every year, or even four times a year, not once in four years.
- Discovering that 'early' camellias can bloom all winter if they have exactly the right conditions, i.e. regular watering, cold weather and plenty of tucker.
- Reminding those who may have had curly leaf on their peaches, brown rot on their apricots, or black spot on their roses, cankers and other fungal and bacterial problems last summer to spray now with Bordeaux. You need to really soak plants in the spray, so homemade is cheaper, and ingredients usually for sale at garden centres. Dissolve 100 grams of copper sulphate in 5 litres of warm water in a bucket and 100 grams of slaked lime/limil/brickie's lime in 5 litres of warm water in another bucket. Combine and stir well till pale blue. Strain through cloth as lumps can block your sprayer. Use at once as it soon separates, or stir it again, and use within 24 hours. Wear gloves and use the usual precautions with any garden spray.