Sunday, October 6, 2013

Braiding onions

With freezing nights upon us, we've been harvesting the garden little by little and storing the produce wherever we can. We don't have a basement and it would be very difficult to dig a root cellar (heavy clay soil, poor drainage -- a hole in the ground simply fills with water). We eventually have plans to build an above-ground root "cellar," but until that happens, we have to make do however we can.

Today I dealt with the onions. Onions are ready to pull when the tops flop over. While nearly every onion I planted grew, I realized we didn't plant nearly enough. We love onions and use a lot, so next year I'll plant more.

A few days ago I pulled up the onions. The yield from the first bed filled a large basket.

I filled an additional crate with the onions from miscellaneous other locations (no photo, sorry).

I put the crate and basket by the woodstove for a few days so the onions could dry. This morning, since the outer skin was dry and papery, I decided to try my hand at braiding onions.

I found a link on how to braid, but while that showed me the general idea, it sure as heck bore no resemblance to reality, as I found out.

First thing I did was trim the roots to about an inch long. (Why this is important, I have no idea. It's not like onion roots are terribly big.)

I also brushed off the extra dirt.

The online instructions suggest a braid of thirteen onions, beginning with the largest three.

The stem of the left-hand onion is wrapped over the other two, then behind and back over, to make a sort of knot. This is where I made my first mistake -- the stem should have come around the bottom of the left-hand onion as well.

I added a fourth onion and kept its stem aligned with the center onion, then braided everything twice.

After this things got kinda messy. The idea is two new onions are added as the braid increases, with their stems mingling with the existing braid. In reality, the stems were so thick (or too thin) that unevenness quickly took over, and it was hard to tell which side to mingle the new onion stems with. It was also awkward to stop and prep a new onion each time I needed to add one. But I blundered through as best I could. The idea, presumably, isn't to get them into picture-perfect photogenic braids. The idea is to keep them together while allowing them to stay exposed to the air.

After thirteen onions are braided together, the ends are tied with a piece of twine.

I couldn't deny the end result was very pretty... until I picked it up. The braid must have weighed twenty pounds. Here's another thing I realized from the online instruction guide -- if you're using BIG ONIONS, don't braid thirteen of them together! The "thirteen" rule should only be for small dainty onions, not these whoppers I got from the garden.

However I didn't come to this conclusion until later. Gamely I tried another braid, but this time I prepped thirteen onions first by trimming their roots and brushing off the dirt. This also allowed me to sort for the largest three to use as the base.

Again I felt like I was blundering my way through, but the result was pretty and I started to feel a wee bit smug, always a dangerous thing.

I braided two more strands, which used up most of the onions.

This left the kitchen a mess (make a note: next time, do this outside)...

...but gave me four satisfyingly attractive braids.

After giving the matter some thought, I decided to hang the onions upstairs where it stays cooler in the winter (onions are best stored in just-above-freezing temps, but we don't have that option). So I trotted out to the barn and fetched some sturdy hay bale twin, then came back in and lifted up two braids of onions to bring them upstairs.

Ooof. They were heavy. As I said, I'm guessing about twenty pounds for each braid. I got them hung and came back down for the next two braids. However as I climbed the stairs, one braid broke and a bunch of onions tumbled out.

Turns out the braids were too heavy and the stems too slippery. I brought the partial braids back to the table and tied them up in half-braids.

While I was doing this, I heard a CRASH from upstairs. Same thing happened -- about half a braid simply slid out from a too-heavy braid.

Make a note: when using big honkin' onions, thirteen are far too many for a single braid. Next time I'll braid them in braids of about five onions. I tied off the half-braids and suspended those along with the two still-intact longer braids.

Despite all the ridiculous blunders, this isn't a bad way to store onions (at least, until we have a root cellar). I'm guessing the upstairs will smell of onions all winter, but that's okay.

I had a few remaining onions, so I just trimmed off what stems they had and put them in our onion basket for immediate use.

Time for cleanup.

I know there are many ways to store onions -- hanging in mesh bags, even knotting them individually in old panty hose -- but since I had neither mesh bags nor old surplus panty hose, this solution seems to work despite the difficulties.

In short, live and learn!


  1. Oh, how I loved your "Braiding Onions". I laughed til I have hiccups. How many times have I done something that has not worked out but I'm bound and determined to make it work. I'm glad your disaster only ended with a little mess. I've done some doosies. Enjoy reading your blogs. I'm 76 so not as busy as you but always learn something to pass along to someone else. Julia

  2. Hi Patrice,

    I found a link just last week about braiding onions, as I was going to try it myself.. This person uses a long piece of cotton string which is tied around the first three onions and then carried through (braided in) as new onions are added. It seems as if it would help keep the braid intact and suppportthe onions, although I'm sure you're right that really big onions need to be in a smaller braid! Here's the post:


  3. Couldn't help but laugh at your onion escapade. I've tried braiding onions before and managed to make nothing but a mess. Last year I found a series of videos on YouTube called Victorian Kitchen Garden. There are 12 of them, one for each month of the year and it recreates a walled Victorian Kitchen Garden. One of the episodes (sorry, can't remember which month) had hanging onions. They used twine but didn't actually tie the onions on the twine, just used it to twist the onions around. It works so much better than the braiding. And the twine will hold the weight of the onions much better than just the stem of the onions. I love it.

    You might want to check out the series. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot of gardening tips and got several ideas to try (after adaptation). It was originally a BBC program, broadcast several years ago, but still worth viewing.

  4. Thanks for sharing this. My FIL usually uses the panty hose method for the 100 lbs or so of Vidalia Onions he picks up when in his hometown.

  5. Ahhh... your blogs can be so entertaining at times lol. What a great success though Patrice - your tire garden, your harvest and now your food storage. I'm so glad you've kept us up to date with the garden's progress. It's one of my favourite parts of your writing, as is preserving, baking, animal care... hmmm... I do enjoy many topics. Jenny

  6. I'm still laughing!!!!!


  7. Man, those are some fine looking onions.

    Actually, the upstairs probably WON'T smell like onions the whole winter because you'll have them all eaten by Christmas. That's usually about how long mine last.

    I always think I have a bazillion of them going into winter --- but EVERYTHING has onions in it: Chili. Stew. Spaghetti. Omelets. Stir fry. Hash browns. They're always gone before I know it.

    Just Me

  8. Thanks for the lesson. If I can ever get my onions to grow beyond ping pong ball size, I would like to try this.


    1. Sorry for my bad English.

      My mother used to braid onions. At fisrt she let the onions in the outside of the house, and only when the green part onions became brown but supple she began to braid.She finnish at the center with the braid and in the outside the onions.
      Hope you understand my English

  9. Ever try storing your onions in panty hose? Don't laugh, so far it's been a pretty good idea. I read about it on one of the many preparedness websites. taking a pair of panty hose drop one onion into the leg and tie a overhand knot above it, then add another with another knot and repeat until the leg is filled. Then hang - When you need an onion simply cut off the bottom onion below the knot.. your very own onion dispenser..

  10. Anon at 4.05, who's English is excellent by the way, is correct. Normally we sit the onions on tarps in the barn, or outside if the weather is good, for a few days. Allowing the stalk and skin to dry some not only makes braiding easier but makes them store longer and with less smell. The braids will also stay tight and not fall apart as the stalks dry. The same applies to garlic.

  11. I am guessing this is why Ma Ingalls stored everything in the Attic? Seriously, sometimes I feel like an idiot when I go back and read what people did (Attic stays cold in winter=store produce that needs to stay cold in attic) and realize that they were much smarter then I ever dreamed of being LOL.

  12. Maybe incorporating a long length of twine into the braid would keep it all together and make it hang better? Keep the twine long at the top when you start, then long at the bottom, so you can wrap the bottom length up to the top and tie it, to support the entire braid?

  13. I just tied a bunch of onions together with twine, and hung them to dry from a nail. After a couple weeks took them down and trimmed roots and tops stored them in an open box on the back patio. (I live in CA.)

  14. Do you cut off the tops if you use the pantyhose method? If so, then you can dry the tops and chop them for herbs. If done this before and used the dried onion tops instead of French's onions in green bean casserole. Tasted wonderful!