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Harris Blackwood: Georgia called Peach State, yet home of Vidalia onion
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

Georgia is known as “The Peach State.” Yes, we produce some of the best tasting peaches in the world, but our neighbors in South Carolina produce more peaches and growers in California produce even more than Georgia and Carolina combined.

But a “Georgia Peach” has a nice ring to it. We have used it to describe a pretty girl.

“She’s as pretty as a Georgia peach,” someone might have said years ago.

Sportswriters dubbed Ty Cobb, the legendary baseball player who was born next door in Banks County, “The Georgia Peach.”

Unlike the sweet fruit, there was not much about Cobb that could be described as sweet. He was a rather angry fellow, according to his biographer.

We now compete with Washington State as the largest producer of blueberries. There hasn’t been a rush to change our name to the blueberry state. The same is true for poultry, peanuts and pecans, which we produce a lot of.

There is one thing that is uniquely ours, the Vidalia onion. If you watch any of the cooking channels on TV, you’ll hear big time chefs reference the Vidalia. Although they may not pronounce it quite right.

There are federal and state laws that regulate the Vidalia. There are 20 counties, mostly in Southeast Georgia, where genuine Vidalia onions can be grown. There is something about the soil in that region that makes the onion have that sweet taste.

Not only is a Vidalia onion unique to a certain region. It cannot be sold until the commissioner of agriculture says it can. This year, that date was April 20.

The current commissioner, Gary Black, is a good friend of mine. At work, we are neighbors in the same building.

They must have a bumper crop this year because prices are favorable and the onions look mighty good.

There are other sweet onions. South Texas has a variety known as the 1015 onion. The name comes from the optimum planting date of Oct. 15. It is grown only in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas.

There is one called The Sweetie Sweet that is grown in the Mason Valley near Yerington, Nevada. Even Hawaii has gotten into the sweet onion business with Maui onions marketed as “Kula-grown.”

But the Vidalia is the one that is the gold standard and is beloved by chefs in some of the finest kitchens in America. We are very protective of the Vidalia name, much in the same way the folks in France are protective of the name Roquefort cheese, which must be aged in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Souizon. Like a Vidalia onion, it is unique.

I know some folks who grow Vidalia onions. Our early season makes it a business with considerable risk. A little too much rain or a last minute cold snap can nearly ruin a crop.

I was driving through onion country recently and it was a mighty pretty sight as those onions looked close to harvest.

If you’ve never been, you ought to drive down to that part of our state. It’s about four hour drive from here and you can get a bag full that was probably picked just a couple of days before.

Take your kids or grandkids and let them see where this unique Georgia onion comes from and how it doesn’t magically appear at your neighborhood supermarket.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose column publishes on Sundays.

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