Cleaning Onions

Trimming Onions
Cleaning Onions

LAKE MACBRIDE— Napping when the email arrived, an hour later I woke, read it and made it over to the farm at a quarter to noon to clean onions. It was solitary work removing the tops and roots, and sorting them into crates. It took five hours. While I worked, one person was at a meeting in town, two sorted and cleaned potatoes, and another sorted spaghetti squash. Silent, but communal work in support of our local food system. Around 1 p.m. everyone else had finished and was gone, leaving me with my thoughts and work.

One of the ironies of this year has been that while working a lot of hours in local food production, my time in the kitchen has been limited. I prepared a number of seasonal dishes, but there was little experimentation or cooking for pleasure. Most of the kitchen time was spent preserving food, rather than preparing meals, converting that part of our home to a temporary mini-factory.

Rendering fresh produce into a shelf-stable product is a vital part of summer abundance. This year there are some new items: dill pickles, sweet pepper sauce, and grape and raspberry jam. As fresh cooking turns to pantry cooking, the household is ready.

In the declining light of the barn, something enveloped me. It was as if the world had been shut out as my pile of onions leaves mounted. I returned briefly to youth, and the holiday time. When there were trips to the drug store to see what seasonal offerings were made. There were trips to used book stores, to secure a supply of winter reading material, even though there was plenty to read already in the house. An trip to the liquor store to buy some wine made of German Riesling grapes, or distilled French spirits: Armagnac, cognac and Calvados. The luxuries of plain living all.

When the onion cleaning was done, the sun was setting and I headed home along the gravel back roads littered with fall foliage and deer crossings. For dinner I cooked veggie burgers and served them on buns bought from the day old rack at $1.40 for eight. Condiments were ketchup and a slice of onion, sides of coleslaw and baked beans. Comfort food for a hearty meal.

What did my onion day dreams mean? It’s hard to say, but the actuality of that feeling took me back to a time of less worry, and living in each moment. A time when our potential seemed unlimited as we left home to see what the world had to offer. In some ways, that journey was never completed. Who knew it would end up in a quiet barn cleaning onions?