Generally, when people think of onions, they are thinking of the annual plant we all know and love. Vidalia, red, green, yellow, white…there are enough types of onions to keep pretty much anyone’s mouth happy! A couple of weeks ago, Belle asked if I’d like to write about “walking onions.” Since I had never heard of them before, I enthusiastically agreed — it’s always fun to learn something new.
The scientific name for these perennial onions is Allium proliferum, and they have many common names in addition to walking onion: topset onion, Egyptian onion, and tree onion. The difference between this variety and the common onion we all know and love is the fact that these onions form tiny “bulblets” at the tops of the leaves. In other words, they are “topsetting” onions.
Eventually, as the leaves dry out and the bulblets get heavier, they fall over. When soil conditions are right, the bulblet will form a new plant. Over time, they will “walk” across the garden, as the plants fall over and reseed themselves. Topsets do not form the first year, though the plants will come back in the spring.
All parts of the walking onion plant can be eaten; however, harvesting the bulb cluster will prevent the formation of the topset. Leave a few if you want to grow them as perennials. The leaves are often used in the same way people use chives or green onions, and the bulb is similar to a common onion, though some people say they are a bit stronger-flavored.
One of the most intriguing things I read was that the topsets can be harvested and either eaten right away, or preserved by pickling. With the recent popularity of pickling on cooking websites, I thought there might be a recipe out there. Sure enough, I found this one on a website called Dave’s Garden.
Now I want to taste an onion topset — pickled or not! Plus, they are really cool looking plants. They grow year-round in mild climates, and though they can be planted any time, are best planted in the fall. I’m definitely adding these to my (ever-growing) fall planting list!
Do you grow onions? What varieties are your favorites? Have you ever pickled onions?