Still life with onion

When on a walk some years ago, local old ladies told me that one could tell if a young woman would be a good wife by the way she cut bread. Our conversation centred around my fascination with the way homemade bread in these parts is cut; in much the same manner as one would peel a potato, both hands in the air, paring knife in one hand, potato in the other, and then, say, cutting the potato into smaller pieces and letting them drop into a pot. When it comes to bread, imagine that what is desirable is a slice of even width the whole slice through.

This is a skill appreciated by menfolk, apparently. These woman thought it strange that to cut a straight slice, even of the Portuguese homemade loaf, I need a cutting board and a sharp knife. Just as well I am not in need of a husband, I said. Just as well, they replied.

What they do not know is that it was my onion-cutting method that impressed my beloved beyond measure when we first met. I won huge kudos for removing the skin and the outer layer of the onion before beginning to cut or chop. I cannot tell you why I do this, and I don’t remember anyone ever telling me to. I just do. What I can tell you is that is made me more desirable as a partner for life, because the onions I prepare are never bitter.

The huge onion pictured in the still life above: it was five cupped handfuls when completely chopped.

I had a couple of really good crops of onions over a decade ago in Zimbabwe, when I had access to an abundance of horse manure and pig shit. My father, armed with the same source of fertilizer, outdid my crop at least five-fold, and had a ready supply of onions hanging from the rafters of his carport for months. I did so love the days when my company vehicle was a 2.7 litre diesel truck, especially when it was loaded with sacks of manure for delivery to my father’s garden!

The point of that digression was to admit that I have never been able to grow onions in the Algarve, even though people all around me achieve fabulous crops, with individual onions often weighing between 500 grams and one kilogram. The average garden-grown onion is often the size of a softball, and they are sweet enough to eat raw. The one pictured in my photographic still life of tomatoes, green peppers, and oregano with onion given to me by my new neighbour four years ago was about 15 cm in diameter. From that detail, you will be able to deduce that the tomatoes in my picture were huge too.

Despite my failure to date on the onion front, I remain hopeful. On this, my 55th birthday, I marked the occasion—after visiting the Tax Department in the next town—by buying a lottery ticket for which I chose my own lucky numbers, and a packet of onion seeds. After a pleasant lunchtime drink in bright sunshine with a couple of friends, I daydreamed about the crop-to-be on the bus back to the village, and collected my post.

With the auspicious packet of seeds tucked away in my backpack (along with my laptop, a kind gift of two books received in the post, a kilogram of flour and a carton of milk, and a jersey and scarf no longer required), I walked the last two kilometres home, munching store-bought sliced white bread with sliced salami, and stopping briefly every once in a while to make myself another quick sandwich.

This story might even have a sequel.

©2019 Allison Wright

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