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The Queen of Onions: Georgia's Vidalias

Vidalia onions are known all over the world for their sweet, mild flavor. The Vidalia is so revered that the Georgia State Legislature named it the official state vegetable in 1990 and defined a 20-county area where only true Vidalia onions can be grown.

Although it has a widespread reputation, the Vidalia onion has a relatively short history. In 1931, a Georgia farmer, Mose Coleman, harvested his onion crop and found that the onions werenít hot and pungent as was expected. They were uncharacteristically sweet. Fortunately, Mose liked what he tasted and tried to sell the sweet onions at market. He had a difficult start, but finally managed to sell them for $3.50 for a 50-pound bag. It was a very good price, and other farmers who were struggling to sell their crops through the Depression thought that Mose had discovered a goldmine. They also began to plant the sweet onions and the rest is history.

Vidalia, Georgia, sits at the junction of what was at the time some of Georgiaís most heavily traveled roads. A farmerís market was set up to sell the Vidalia onions, and tourists who fell in the love with them spread the word all over the state. Consumers started a demand for the sweet vegetable, and they soon began appearing on grocery store shelves. It wasnít until the mid-1970ís, however, that Vidalia onions were distributed nationally.

Since then, many manufacturers have produced goods, such as salad dressings, showcasing the Vidalia onion. But it wasnít until July of 2009 that Vidalias became a part of a national food chainís menu when Longhorn Steakhouse launched Vidalia Onion Barbecue Sauce to accompany their ribs and steaks.

Vidalia onions are extremely versatile. They are delicious raw and are also perfect to add a depth of flavor and sweetness to any cooked dish. Cut a small core in a whole, peeled Vidalia, wrap in a slice of bacon, top with a dollop of butter and bake in a low and slow oven for a perfect side dish for any meal. Bread and fry them for a perfect accompaniment to a grilled steak. They can be stuffed, used in marinades, salad dressings and dips, or in appetizers, entrees and even some desserts.

The best time to purchase Vidalia onions is in the spring, although they are usually available right through the summer. Although they are only available during season, they can be stored for up to a year if handled properly. Vidalia onions have a high sugar and water ratio, so they bruise easily. Wrap each onion individually in a paper towel and store them in the refrigerator for up to a year. Or use the legs of pantyhose to store them, tying a knot between each onion to keep them protected. Hang in a cool, dry place. They can also be chopped and frozen or dried in a very low oven and stored in airtight containers.

For more information, visit VidaliaOnion.org.

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