A scrumptious delight that can only be found Georgia is getting ready to be shipped. This crop became the number one Georgia vegetable commodity and was crowned the state vegetable in 1990. Rarely do we hear of a success story as we do of the Vidalia onions.
Back in 1931 a farmer by the name of Moses Coleman in Toombs County was looking for another crop to grow besides cotton and corn. Moses decided if he could develop a market for onions. By the grace of God, his farm happened to be in a region of southeast Georgia that had low sulfur soils.
Instead of harvesting onions that tended to be on the hot side, these onions were sweet. He started selling his onions for $3.50 per bag. This was a great price for a farm commodity in the midst of the great depression. The other farmers in the area thought Moses Coleman had discovered a gold mine.
People traveling through the hub of Vidalia, Georgia, before all the interstates started picking up these local onions at the markets in Vidalia. The news of the sweetness of these particular onions began to spread by word of mouth. The local electrical company even began giving away these onions as gifts to their clients.
Moses’ luck was still holding. The state of Georgia decided to build a state farmers market at the crossroads of Vidalia in the early ’40s. This further expanded the reach of the Vidalia onions. But this wasn’t the biggest stroke of luck.
Piggly Wiggly, the grocery store chain, just happened to be headquartered in Vidalia. The folks at Piggly Wiggly recognized the potential early on. Those “sweet onions from Vidalia” began to spread from a state market to a region market.
Production began to grow slowly but surely. By the 1970s Vidalia onion acreage was up to 600 acres. The legal status of the Vidalia onion was created by the Georgia legislature and defined the 20-county growing area in 1986.
Vidalia onion producers joined together to establish Federal Marketing Order No. 955 in 1989. What all this meant was that only onion grown in the 20 county area could be called Vidalia.
Through the use of controlled atmosphere storage techniques, Vidalia onions could be marketed through the fall and holiday season. At this time there are over 14,000 acres of onions planted in the Vidalia area and they are sold in every state in the union.
4-H’ers all across the state use Vidalia Onions as a fundraiser. If you’re interested in tasting these onions and also supporting the 4-H program, give the extension office a call 706-883-1675. The cost is 10 pounds for $10.
The kids could use all the support they can get. Orders must be received by April 8.
Once you bring them home there are some important care instructions. Vidalia onions bruise easily, so handle them with care. If you want to make them last, store them carefully.
Keep them cool, dry, well-ventilated area and separate. Recycling old panty hose is an easy method. You may have seen your grandmother do this. Tie a knot between each onion and cut the knot when you are ready to use it.
Vidalia onions can also be stored on racks or screens as long as they don’t touch and kept in a cool place. You may also freeze the whole onion by peeling, washing, coring before placing it in a freezer bag. Frozen onions should only be used for cooking because freezing changes their texture. Try this recipe from the Georgia Grown Cookbook for kids for Baked Vidalia Onion Rings:
1 Large Vidalia onion sliced into ½ inch rings
1 ¼ cup self-rising flour
1 cup milk
1 cup Italian bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons parmesan cheese
Blend milk and egg. Dip onion rings into egg mixture, then into flour. Place the rings into the bread crumbs and completely cover. Place coated rings onto a sprayed baking sheet. Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
This recipe and others from Georgia Grown are available to print at http://feedmyschool.org/fms/school-nutrition-programs/Classroom-Resources/Georgia-Grown-Cookbook/
Brian Maddy is the ANR Agent for Troup County Extension. The Troup County Extension office is located at 114 Church St. in LaGrange and may be reached at 706-883-1675, Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–noon and 1–5 p.m.