One of my favorite questions is: if you were a vegetable, what would you be and why?
It’s a great conversation starter.
And one of my favorite answers came from a friend who instantly replied, “Shallots. Because they’re essential.”
I love this answer not only because I’d never thought of shallots as essential before, but also because I’d never so boldly declared myself essential. At the time, the friend who said this was in his first year running his own CSA, renting land on the grass-based livestock farm where Edge and I were apprenticing.
It thought it a bit presumptuous to call oneself essential, though at that point I hadn’t yet taken ownership of a business that required every part of myself to grow. I hadn’t yet become a mother.
I’d only just begun to peel back the layers of my own assumptions and expectations of who I was and what my life would become—and while I believed in self-love, I’d cultivated a strong habit of putting others before myself every time.
In short, I wasn’t as sure of myself as he was, but the way he answered so quickly and matter-of-factly made me want to be.
In the years since, I’ve come to agree that shallots, along with the rest of their allium family of onions, garlic, and leeks, are essential.
Garlic and onions or shallots start nearly every meal we cook throughout the year, with leeks take a starring role in the fall when they come into maturity.
Aside from their role in the kitchen, alliums provide the perfect metaphor for growth: it takes time. There are many layers. Peeling back (or chopping up) those layers will sting and be uncomfortable and inevitably make you cry. But you do it anyway because it’s essential if you’re to become who you’re meant to be.
Plus, all the time spent in the soil tending to the onion crop teaches patience, which is also essential.
So, now you know you want to grow onions, shallots, and leeks, but which ones?
Here’s what we grow at Good Heart, our list of essential alliums:
Before you choose a variety, it’s important to know what day-length category they are.
Onions fall into three different categories: long-day, short-day, and intermediate. Long-day onions require 14 – 16 hours of daylight to start bulbing, and need to be grown in the north in order to bulb. Short-day varieties start bulbing with 10 hours of daylight and grow better in the south. Intermediate varieties fall in between and can be grown in both northern and southern states.
Because we grow in the northern state of Vermont, we grow long-day onions. Garlic and Leeks aren’t affected by daylight like onions are.
Conservor F1 are large, rosy-pink shallots with more single-bulbs than double, making them an easy variety to peel and chop quickly in the kitchen.
Cabernet F1 is our favorite red onion. It matures early and lasts long into the spring in storage.
New York Early is truly an early onion, ready for harvest before any other yellow onion we’ve grown. Plus, it’s a great storage variety! If you’re direct-seeding onions, this is the one to pick.
Yankee F1 is another outstanding yellow onion. Along with its high yields and long storage ability, it’s resistant to downy mildew, making this variety one of the healthiest and strongest we’ve seen all the way into the fall harvest.
Chinook F1 is without a doubt my favorite leek. It sizes up quickly and uniformly, leading to consistent high yields.
Tadorna is a fantastic open-pollinated variety, slightly later than Chinook, and bred to hold well in the field late into the fall.