Just as the Indian River region is renowned for its citrus, a small town in Georgia is synonymous with onions. Mary Owen was born in Vidalia but has lived in Vero Beach since the mid-1940s.
Q. “In Vidalia, did your family grow Vidalia onions?”
A: “We grew the onion that is now famous as a Vidalia.”
Q: “What is so special about a Vidalia onion?”
A: “Well, I tell you what I call them! I call them a ViIdalia (accent on first syllable), because I was raised in Vidalia, Georgia, but you’re welcome to call them Vidalia. The onion is sweet, not tart, and it doesn’t leave the strong feeling ike a regular onion. You can have an onion sandwich, and believe me, it’s good! You get another onion and try the same sandwich and you will know the difference.”
Q: “When you cut a Vidalia onion, does it bring tears to your eyes?”
A: “No. Not to mine.”
Q: “When you moved to Vero, you must have missed those onions.”
A: “Well, I did miss the onions, but I became acquainted with a lot of good people here in Vero Beach. I’ve been so blessed. On the Old Dixie there were a lot of homes down there. The joneses lived there and Mr. Jones had the sweet onion. He didn’t call it a Vidalia onion but it was a sweet onion and it was just like a Vidalia onion. He grew it in his garden, had rows and rows of onions, and people went down there, like they did on Oslo Road getting pineapples. I started buying my onions there and then Mr. (William) Allison, who had a market down on Old Dixie, he started finding the sweet onions. They just called them sweet onions.”
Q: “But they were Vidalias? Did I say it right this time?” (laughs)
A: “Yes. They were Vidalias.”
Q: “Was the soil similar? Is that why they were similar to the ones you were used to?”
A: “Well, Vidalia is within a radius of Savannah, Georgia. The soil changes at Savannah, I’d say. It’s a long strip of land that seems to grow those onions just like we in Indian River County, Brevard and St. Lucie grow grapefruit.”
Q: “What recipes do you make with your sweet onions? You’re 92, and still cooking with them, right?”
A: “I still cook for the family. I make an onion souffle’.”
Q: “Sounds tasty!”
A: “It’s a little bit of work to put together but it’s a pushover to get your way!”
Q: “And I bet it’s always a crowd pleaser.”
A: “It is a crowd pleaser and I don’t cook unless I have a crowd, because it takes eight to 10 people to eat it at one sitting.”
Q: “Where do you get your onions these days? You have a beautiful yard but I don’t know if you have a garden.”
A: “I did have a garden but I didn’t grow onions, because Mr. Isaac Reams grew Vidalia onions and I got them from him. Now the grocers have Vidalia onions. If it says sweet onion it could be similar to the Vidalia. Most of the Vidalias have the little logo stuck on them.”
Q: “What do you make besides souffles?”
A: “I use Vidalia onions in recipes that call for a little bit of onions, and I eat an onion sandwich: onion, mayonnaise and a little black pepper on bread, white bread. I’m still a Southerner from way back!
Mary Owen is an active member of First United Methodist Church and the Indian River County Garden Club . Look for her onion souffle’ recipe in Janie Gould’s new book, “Food for Floridays: Stories and Recipes,” due out this month. For details, contact the author at Janiegould@aol.com.