I am well known for publishing my tongue-in-cheek “Kitchen Tip of the Day” (a book I really need to compile), so I highly recommend that you DON’T try this recipe for broiled Vidalia Onions.
Most people in the United States and Canada are aware of the sweet taste of a Vidalia Onion. I wanted to share more facts with you, so I carefully researched them. Ok, fine, I looked up the “official” website for Vidalia Onions, but that is more research than I normally do.
Did you know that the Vidalia Onion is the official vegetable of the State of Georgia?
You probably thought the official vegetable of Georgia was grits. Don’t be silly. Grits are the Official Prepared Food of Georgia. Honest.
Don’t laugh, though, because I ran across several unusual official state foods while researching this post:
> Lousiana has an official state meat, Natchitoches Meat Pie.
> Maine has an official state treat, Whoopie Pie.
> Connecticut has an official state cookie, the Snickerdoodle.
> Wisconsin has an official state pastry, Kringle.
Just in case you are from Texas or Washington, don’t fret. I know your official state vegetable involves sweet onions. For Washington, that would be the Walla Walla Sweet Onion. And Texas simply claims “sweet onion” as its official state vegetable. Not a very creative name, but this is the same state whose official snack is tortilla chips and salsa.
No other state can claim Vidalia Onions though because they must be grown in a certain region of Georgia, in and around Vidalia, Georgia, or they can’t claim the name Vidalia. You can’t grow Vidalia Onions outside of that area or the plant will just explode, and locusts will descend from the heavens, and rivers will flood.
Well, maybe not, but you sure can’t call them Vidalias or the US Department of Agriculture will be knocking on your door. Just like you can drink all of the sparkling wine you want, but don’t dare call it Champagne unless it came from the Champagne region of France. That is totally different.
Seriously, the claim is that the onions grown near Vidalia are so sweet because of the lower amounts of sulfur in the soil in that region. Which is funny, because sulfur is often associated with the devil and Georgia is hotter than hell, so you would think there would be more sulfur. So much for scientific reasoning.
Right around the time that the State of Georgia was debating the important issue of what the state vegetable should be (1990), I was working for a company with a manufacturing plant in Dublin, Georgia. Dublin is between Macon and Savannah (southeast of Atlanta) along Interstate 16. Importantly, Dublin is inside the official growing zone of Vidalia Onions.
This might be a little shocking, but the fastest route to Dublin from my home in Charlotte was not by air. Strangely, I could not find a direct flight between Charlotte and the Dublin International Airport. At least not, the Dublin in Georgia. And so I drove. Interstate to Augusta and then two-lane southern highways from Augusta to Dublin. In my black car. Solid black car. With black interior. In late July.
For those of you who have never had the pleasure of summer in the Southeast, let me suggest that you think of the hottest, muggiest sauna you have ever been in. Have the visualization? Good. Now just imagine even more heat and more humidity than that sauna and you are starting to approach a southern summer day. You don’t want to move because the mere thought of movement will start sweat pouring out of your skin.
Driving from the motel to the plant every morning was not too bad, but getting into that solid black car at the end of the day was tough. I would open the door, attempt to insert the ignition key without fainting from the heat, start the engine, and then stand just outside the car for a few minutes while it cooled off. You know, cooled off to equal the chill evening air . . . of the summer sun beating down on the asphalt parking lot. Hey, 100º was chill compared to the broiling temperatures inside that car.
Anyway, to the onions. Thursday of a long week. I was trying hard to get the project done so that I could drive home that evening. Someone tells me I have a phone call. It’s my co-workers from Charlotte. They want to know if I will do a favor. They want a 40 lb bag of Vidalia Onions brought back. Can I do that?
Sure, I don’t mind, but I don’t have time to go get them.
No worries, came the reply, someone else in the Dublin office is already getting them. All I have to do is drive them home and bring them to the office tomorrow.
Sure. That sounds easy.
I go back to a room full of engineers and cost accountants working on a problem. Yes, I led an exciting life.
As the morning drags on, different people stick their head in the door asking us for one thing or another. At one point, someone asks for my car keys. Not unusual. We had far more people than parking spaces, so security often had to shuffle cars to let someone move. I tossed my keys to the person and went back to work.
Late afternoon. The project was done and I had “only” a four to four-and-a-half hour drive to get home, so I was eager to get on the road. I packed up my papers (shocking for those of you who are younger, but laptops were not yet common, so I had paper and – wait for it – floppy disks of data). I chatted with people in the office, got my car keys back from security, and headed outside.
I should mention that the plant was a giant laundry facility. We washed blue jeans – lots and lots of blue jeans. Stone washed jeans (which were actually washed with pumice stone). Acid washed jeans. And so on. Lots of humidity. Lots of heat. And stepping from that plant to the great outdoors was breathtaking – because it was hotter and more humid outside.
Sweat instantly formed on my body. The cars shimmered in the steam coming up from the asphalt. I staggered my way to my solid black car, inserted the key in the door (oh, yeah, key fobs were MUCH later), opened the door, and leaned in to stick the key in the ignition.
My eyes watered. The smell hit me. I nearly fainted.
I staggered back , gasping for air. Tears streamed down my face. A co-worker was getting into his car several spaces away, but paused, sniffed the air, and asked, “What the hell is that?”
“My car,” I gasped.
“What did you do to it?”
“I don’t know.”
He walked over, sniffed, and busted out laughing. He borrowed my keys, opened my trunk, and revealed a 40-pound bag of Vidalia Onions. A bag that had been placed in my trunk several hours earlier. My black car. Parked on asphalt. On a late July day. In Georgia. I had 40 pounds of broiled onions. Carefully placed right beside my suitcase with a week’s worth of work clothes. Even Salvation Army refused those.
My co-worker would have fallen on the ground he was laughing so hard, but he would have fried on that parking lot. His hooting brought others though, and they all were howling.
One other thing you should know about Southern summers. Bugs come out in the evening. Not a few. Swarms and swarms of bugs. Drive your car for four-and-a-half hours on a summer evening and you need to pressure wash all of the bug guts.
What you never want to do is drive with the windows open. Unless, of course, you can’t breathe with the windows closed. Or tears flow down your face. Then you have to ride with the windows open. And keep your mouth closed. Don’t swallow a bug to add to your misery.
Oh, I really enjoyed the new, burgundy car I drove that winter. New car smell and all.