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Buy my onions! I am from France!

onionsI saw a real, live Frenchman! And I buyed onions from him!

For almost two hundred years, farmers from Brittany have been coming across the Channel to sell their onions to the English. Brits call them “onion Johnnies.”

They sell a particular mild pink onion from the area around the town of Roscoff, which they braid onto plaits of straw, loop over the handlebars of their bicycles and sell door-to-door. Oh, yeah…they wear little black berets and little black mustaches and really camp it up.

It started in the early Nineteenth C when one farmer realized he could get more for his crop here than they could there. Eventually, there were a couple of thousand making the regular run. They’d bring the crop over and warehouse it in July, then slowly fan out on their bicycles selling them to housewives until December or later.

The onions keep about six months; hang them up in the kitchen and snip one off from time to time. (My old mother would have LOVED this. She had a sort of onion fetish, as did her mother before her. We had onions as a centerpiece at the dining table and got onions in our stockings at Christmas. Come to think of it, that kind of sucks, doesn’t it?).

Our onion Johnny was cheating; he had a table outside the local grocery shop. And no mustache. But he did have a slick color brochure (printed with an EU grant — don’t get me started) which I have lost. It informed me that there are now 25 onion Johnnies.

They’re probably as authentic as the Pirates on a Disney ride, but poor old Uncle B got all excited. He remembers real onion Johnnies from the Before Time.



August 31, 2009 — 5:39 pm
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