No smell announces the preparation of a meal better than the rich, sweet aroma of sautéing onions. It’s a humble staple of my pantry that I couldn’t do without. Luckily, I live in an area famous for its onions. I keep a special pair of blue swim goggles in my kitchen drawer for chopping the extremely pungent variety that grow in our region of New York State. Known as the Black Dirt, the fertile soil—a result of an ancient glacial lake—is rich in organic matter and sulfur. The latter gives our local onions their intense flavor and earns them a spot in farmer’s markets and supermarkets all over the Northeast.
Starting in April armies of bright green shoots march across the black dirt. By July, they’re standing tall. And in August the stalks wilt, their purpose served. In September the heady scent of onions pervades the air and the onion crates are stacked high in the fields, waiting to be stored or transported to market.
your beauty formed
petal by petal,
crystal scales expanded you
and in the secrecy of the dark earth
your belly grew round with dew.
Under the earth
and when your clumsy
green stem appeared,
and your leaves were born
in the garden,
the earth heaped up her power
showing your naked transparency,
and as the remote sea
in lifting the breasts of Aphrodite
duplicating the magnolia,
so did the earth
clear as a planet
round rose of water,
of the poor.
You make us cry without hurting us.
I have praised everything that exists,
but to me, onion, you are
more beautiful than a bird
of dazzling feathers,
heavenly globe, platinum goblet,
of the snowy anemone
and the fragrance of the earth lives
in your crystalline nature.