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Cooking with Crevolyn: Sweetness of Vidalia onions

POSTED: May 28, 2014 1:00 a.m.

“V is for Vidalia.” That’s the new consumer campaign for our beloved, South Georgia-grown onion.

The Vidalia onion is a phenomenon like no other when you think about it. It’s one of those perfect storm type of things.

Back in the 1930s, during The Great Depression, South Georgia farmers were scratching their heads as to what might bring them some much-needed cash. Corn and cotton were promising, but almost as a fluke, the farmers planted onions. Who knew it would be the start of the sweetest, mildest, most delicious onion in all of history? OK, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but I do love these onions.

With Vidalia situated at the crossroads of Macon, Savannah and Augusta, and “The Pig,” Piggly Wiggly Supermarkets headquartered in Vidalia, the perfect combination of location and distribution all made for the fast and furious growth of our state’s official vegetable.

I never will forget when Darrell and I married the first week of June in 1984 — Yes, we’ve been married almost 30 years — that Johnnie, Darrell’s dad, said it was a bad choice. Before I could get my feelings hurt that I was the “bad choice,” he went on to say the date was not the best for him. Back then, the busiest time for the grocery store was the first weekend of the month. And on top of that, it was Vidalia onion season. You combine those two things in the grocery business in Georgia and it was likely to be a wild weekend.

Just for the record, he left the grocery store behind and stood next to Darrell as his best man, onions or no onions.

I’ve always thought a trip to the fine city of Vidalia for the annual onion festival would be worth my time. This festival is a big deal, complete with performances by well-known artists; a children’s parade featuring an appearance by the official mascot, Yumion; the onion run; an onion-eating contest; and last but certainly not least, the crowning of Miss Vidalia Onion.

Let me just tell you, if I were going to be the queen of something, I would consider it a great honor to be the Vidalia Onion Queen. I think we should all mark our calendars now for next year’s festival.

These days you can find all kinds of products with that great Vidalia flavor, including salad dressings, mustards, relishes, salsas and barbecue sauces. All of those contain what we like best about the onion.

But nothing beats just slicing into one. Some have been known to eat them like an apple. While I haven’t ever done that, you can find me using them in just about every recipe I cook this time of year including this cornbread.

Thanks, Vidalia. We sure do appreciate you.

Vidalia onion cornbread

* 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

* 1 large Vidalia onion, chopped

* 1 (8-ounce) package cornbread/muffin mix

* 1 egg, beaten

* 1/3 cup milk

* 1 cup sour cream

* 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided

* 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and saute the onion until tender, but not browned, for about three minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the muffin mix, egg, milk, sour cream, 1/2 cup of the cheese and salt. Stir to combine. Pour into the prepared pan and top with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes, until set and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before cutting into squares.

Crevolyn Wiley is a Gainesville resident with her first published cookbook “Cooking with Crevolyn” available at J&J Foods. She can be contacted at crevolyn.wiley@jandjfoods.com.


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