Vidalia ® onions are sweet onions grown exclusively in a 20-county region in Georgia. Their mild, sweet taste lends them for use in salads, sandwiches and in recipes that would be overpowered by the taste of more strongly-flavored onions. Similar sweet onions are grown in other parts of the country, but Vidalia onions must be grown in a particular combination of sandy soil and mild climate in order to produce their distinct flavor. Vidalia onions are planted from September through February, and each planted acre yields 70,000 plants!
Vidalia onions got their start in 1931, when a Georgia farmer by the name of Moses Coleman discovered that the onions he had planted were not hot, as he had expected, but sweet. These unusual onions were difficult to sell at first, but eventually they caught on. Other farmers who had not been able to get a fair price for their produce (corn, cotton, etc) during the Depression, noticed the onions selling for $3.50 per 50-pound bag (a big price in those days) and began to grow the onions themselves.
In the 1940's, the State of Georgia built a farmer's market in Vidalia, a small town at the intersection of some of South Georgia's most widely traveled highways. Tourists stopped at the market, purchased these sweet onions, and spread the word about the ‘Vidalia onions’. The onions began appearing on the shelves of Piggly Wiggly and A & P grocery stores in the south, and by the mid-1970s efforts were being made to distribute Vidalia Onions nationwide.
In 1986, Georgia passed state legislation giving the Vidalia Onion legal status and defining the 20-county production area; the Vidalia Onion was named Georgia's Official State Vegetable by the state legislature in 1990. Also in 1990, technology borrowed from the apple industry allowed for controlled atmosphere (CA) storage of Vidalia Onions, extending the marketing of the onions through the fall and into the holiday season.
Vidalia ® onions are a good source of vitamin C and dietary fiber, and have a higher sugar and water content than other onions. Locally, Hydrogrowers in the 2nd Street Market may have Vidalia Onions (Dot’s Market in Kettering definitely has them. Dot's also has the Bad Mother products). Try this simple recipe for grilled (or roasted) Vidalia Onion with barbecue sauce:
Barbecued Vidalia Onions
- 1 large Vidalia Onion
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup Bad Mother barbecue sauce
Cut the bottom of the Vidalia Onion so it sits flat. Cut a slice from the top. Peel the onion and place it on a square of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
From the top down, quarter the Vidalia Onion almost all the way through, leaving about ½ inch joined at the bottom. Cut the onion again until it is in eighths (but still attached at the bottom.
Slice the butter into 8 thin slices and stick a slice between each cut segment. Pour the barbecue sauce over the onion, letting it run in and over the onion. Wrap the foil around the onion and pinch the foil together at the top.
You can place the foil wrapped onion on the grill for 20-30 minutes, or put it in a 350 degree oven for 30 or 40 minutes (it depends on the size of the onion and the heat of the grill/oven). To see if the onion is done, stick the onion with a fork to test for tenderness.
Remove from the heat, slice into quarters and serve, pouring some of the juices from the foil over each portion.
"Mine eyes smell onions, I shall weep anon." - Shakespeare
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