Bermuda Onions

The story goes that Governor Daniel Tucker had onions brought to Bermuda in the ship Edwin in 1616 because he was an enthusiastic farmer.  This fact appears in  lots of places:  Bermuda-attractions, Tuckers Point and news articles. But is it true?

  • Daniel Tucker was Governor of Bermuda in 1616-1619….. √
  • Daniel Tucker was a planter in Virginia when called to be Governor… √
  • He came to Bermuda aboard the ship George…..√
  • There was a ship “Edwin”  in 1616….√
  • Edwin sailed from England to Bermuda, then to West Indies and back to Bermuda….√

The next sentence is complicated:

  • Virginia Bernhard, in her book Slaves and Slaveholders in Bermuda, 1616-1782,
  • wrote that 
  • Governor John Henry Lefroy, in his book Historye of the Bermudas or Somers Islands
  • wrote that
  • Nathaniel Butler in a manuscript now in the British Museum (Sloane MSS750)
  • wrote that
  • the ship Edwin brought to Bermuda “One Indian and one Negroe”

……….  but nothing about onions!
True, he mentions   “plantans, suger canes, figges, pines, and the like,”  so maybe some onions were in the mix.

Bermuda Onions, Botanical Gardens

Bermuda Onions, Botanical Gardens

 

It probably isn’t possible to find out exactly so we will have to believe the current version of history: onions arrived on Bermuda very early on.  It is true that by the mid 19th century onions were a significant crop for the island: in 1844 some 332,735 lbs were exported.  By 1875 the figure was around 4000 tons.  The merchant seamen were nicknamed “Onions” and Bermuda itself “The Onion Patch”.  

You might be wondering why they are so popular and its to do with the mild but sweet taste, probably the combination of soil, sun and water, but I have found three journalist articles saying there is “some magic in the soil”.  A gardening website said to grow onions one should use lots of potash and water and if you harvest at 50 days you get Spring onion-style onions with green tips, but leaving for 120 days gives you larger bulb keeping onions.  It also suggested sowing onions in between rows of other vegetables because they protect from aphids and carrot flies  (after googling for an image of a carrot fly I am not sure I will eat carrots for a while)

Naturally the medical aspects of onions interests me – I didn’t know that freshly cut onion has 10 minutes of antibacterial action so has in the past been used for grazes, wounds, beestings, boils and bruises – note for any junior doctors reading this: probably not approved by the GMC!   In India and China onion has been used to treat cholera and dysentery – 30g onion with 7-10 black peppers ground together and given every few hours.  Onion contains potassium, vitamins A and C and sugar without fat so it might just work on any gastroenteritis.  There are also some interesting studies ongoing in Texas on whether onion can inhibit colon cancer.  The best study I found (in terms of I like the conclusion not that I have analysed the technical aspects of the study) is from Queen Elizabeth College, London, that has found adding fried onions to steak and chips reduces platelet clumping and so could be good for cardiovascular problems!

IMG_2635

This book was written years ago and you will have to come to Bermuda to get a copy – $12 at the Trustworthy Shop – has every onion recipe under the sun, or so it seems.  How about strawberries, onions, toasted almonds with lettuce and yoghurt poppy seed dressing?  Or an onion egg sandwich: 1 chopped Bermuda onion, hard boiled egg and 1 cup mayonnaise with chopped parsley, salt and pepper on decrusted bread.  For the National Trust researchers meetings Margie brings the most delicious egg sandwiches and I am wondering if this is the secret!

So I have covered history, medical and cookery – which leaves onion art?  This will make one of my daughters smile – onions are one of the few things I can draw.

 

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