Walla Walla, Washington, is known for its sweet onions and great wines. We drove from Portland, Ore., and picked up Bob and Christine at the Walla Walla Airport. Harold, Yoshie, Tommy and Wendy were also at the airport but somehow, their GPS took them to the corn and wheat fields of Walla Walla and they finally showed up an hour or so later to our home for the next few days, Cameo Heights Mansion in Touchet. And here I thought they started to drink Washington wines without us!
As the rest of the group started to take over the mansion, Lorna and Albert, driving in from northern Washington, Jane and Jack from Montana, we were greeted by owner Alan, who welcomed us and took each of us to our rooms. Each suite had a name of a country, and was decorated as such. We had the Spanish Suite, Harold and Yoshie had the Greek Suite, Christine and Bob, the French Suite, Jack and Jane the Italian Suite and Wendy and Tommy the Asian Suite. Dinners were seven courses with a wonderful wine selection.
I had expected to be eating a lot of Walla Walla sweet onions, but the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival is held annually at the end of June and we had just missed it. During that time, restaurants in Walla Walla have their special sweet onions in many dishes. If you want your fill of Walla Walla onions, next year’s event will be held on June 27-28 in downtown Walla Walla.
As we were there after the festival, most restaurants had already taken Walla Walla sweet onions off their menus! I asked one of our waitresses at a restaurant why there were no specials and she said most of their customers were tired of eating sweet onions already! It’s all about timing, isn’t it?
Walla Walla’s history with the sweet onion started over a century ago on the island of Corsica, Italy, when a French soldier, Peter Pieri, found a sweet onion, brought it back to Walla Walla, and planted it. Little did he know that he started an industry!
Lorna and I drove to a store down the street, Klackers, looking for Walla Walla Sweet Onion Relish or Chutney but could not find any. I bought some Walla Walla onion mustard with whole seeds instead. The outside of the store had displays of 25 pounds of sweet onions, either sold for $14.95 for jumbo or $10.95 for medium sized onions. If I could, I would have bought a 25-pound bag and brought it home to make sweet onion relish.
SWEET ONION RELISH
5 pounds sweet onions, Kula or Maui, peeled and finely chopped
2 red peppers, washed, seeds and stems removed, finely chopped
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 cups cider vinegar
Combine the finely chopped onions and bell pepper with the kosher salt, let stand for 30 minutes.
Bring a saucepan of water to a simmer, reduce heat to low and add the jar lids, keep them in the hot water, but do not boil.
Fill half of a large pot with water, add four one-pint jars and bring water to a boil. Reduce heat to low and keep jars hot while the onion mixture is simmering.
Drain the onions and bell peppers in a fine mesh strainer, squeezing gently and removing most of the water.
In a large non-reactive pot, (stainless steel) combine the sugars, turmeric, and vinegar. Put pickling spices in a cheese cloth bag and add to the vinegar and sugar mixture. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
Add the well drained onions and bell peppers, increase heat to medium, and bring to a boil.
Lower heat to medium low and simmer for 30 minutes. Fill the hot jars and wipe rims with damp paper towels. Fit the jars with the lids and screw rings on firmly.
Put jars on a rack in the pot and fill with more very hot water so it comes at least 1 inch above the tops of the jars. Bring to boil. Cover and boil gently for 10 minutes. Remove the jars to a rack to cool. Do not invert.
Walla Walla’s intense heat is great for grape growing as the more the grapes suffer, the better the wines! Our gang visited some wonderful wineries such as Columbia Crest, Col Solare, Waterbrook, L’Ecole, Amavi, and Pepper Bridge Wineries. One day it was 104 degrees and we were told that 2014 will be a great year for Walla Walla wines.
The sweet onion variety that is planted in Walla Walla has a low sulfur content and is not pungent. When that same onion is planted in Vidalia Georgia, it is called a Vidalia sweet Onion, in Kula or Maui, a Maui or Kula sweet onion. The Sweetie Sweet is grown in Mason Valley, Yerington Nevada, the Glennville Sweet in Tattnal County, Glennville, Georgia, the Pecos sweet onion, in Pecos Valley Texas and the Texas 1015 is a super sweet onion that was named after the optimum planting date, Oct. 15 and developed by Texas A &M.
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