A kingdom for an onion

I looked mournfully at the scant tablespoon full of dried onion in the old spice package. "That's it?" I asked incredulously. "Well, didn't you buy any more?" Sam wondered.

I looked mournfully at the scant tablespoon full of dried onion in the old spice package. “That’s it?” I asked incredulously.

“Well, didn’t you buy any more?” Sam wondered. “No,” I replied in an injured tone, “didn’t you?”

And so we find ourselves entering winter with almost no onions on hand and feeling rather stupid. What has all our careful food and supply planning come to? Pasta packages also seem to be rather few this year, but then we have plenty of rice and home-grown potatoes, not to mention flour for making pasta ourselves. The milk situation is quite a different extreme: the 15 palettes of evaporated milk should see us well into next August.

It seems that we both abandoned our carefully compiled master lists this summer when we did the grocery shopping. Taking inventory of what we still had at home was really just a casual glance through the pantry and so we found ourselves shopping by inclination and dim memories rather than by facts. Not a good thing when you only get to the store a few times a year. The same kind of unfounded urges were responsible for the mounds of toilet paper we are still working our way through and the at long last dwindling stock of by now three-year-old cans of peas and beans.

It’s not a big deal, really, just kind of disappointing – when you can’t get to the store for a few months and run out of stuff, you just make do without. Not that there is much of a choice, other than an airdrop of onions and spaghetti. And at least our fresh winter veggie selection is looking pretty good so far. Crowding the south-facing windows of the cabin are planters filled with acorn squash, tomatoes and zucchini – our choice of house plants, which make for a somewhat tropical indoor atmosphere with their generous leaves and large glowing flowers.

A bucket with manure tea for them is already steeping inside, now that it keeps turning into a manuresicle when left outside. As additional pampering, we’ll prop the planters about a foot off the ground this winter. The floor of our cabin has the unfortunate tendency to descend into sub-zero temperatures during cold spells and so far, the plants never took kindly to having their roots frozen. Hopefully, this will do the trick and make them last into spring for a change.

Out in the garden there is still a raised bed full of Swiss chard, grimly holding on despite the recent dip into wintry cold. This has been our stand-by winter veggie because it adapts cheerfully to being dug out of the garden in late fall and transplanted into the cabin, eagerly pushing out new leaves throughout the winter at a very decent rate. But with the new addition of zucchinis to our inside garden there really is no space for anything else now. I keep pushing things a few inches this way or that but it still doesn’t add up to enough space for another planter by a southern window. I’m starting to think that the ideal Yukon cabin would be almost tube-shaped, just a very long and narrow building with a wall of windows to the south. Oh, the amount of veggies that could be grown throughout the winter then, at no additional heating cost.

As we mulled over the bleak onion situation (how many little snippets of onion were actually in that package and how much flavour could just one or two of those tiny shreds impart to a meal?), an endless string of bland meals steamed away insipidly in our minds. Onions are one of the things we’ve been wanting to grow ourselves but haven’t found space for in the still too small garden. Wait – didn’t we have some seeds, though? A quick dash over to the drawer with the seed packages revealed indeed a wrinkled old seed package for onions. In that instance, the poor chard was consigned to death row in the garden. Surely, some space can be found somehow in the cabin for coaxing life out of some onion seeds. A hanging container, if need be.

Sam had another idea: we could try digging up the root bulbs of some of the wild chives that grow along the water. Maybe it wasn’t too late for that yet. What a great idea. Suddenly and unexpectedly, we were back in the onion business.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon

River south of Whitehorse.

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