Mom’s advice to “eat your vegetables” was never so sweet as it is in Toombs County, Ga., home of the Vidalia Onion Festival. The state’s official vegetable stars in cakes, casseroles, dips and dressings at the festival every spring in, where else, Vidalia, Ga.
“Anything and everything is entered. Creativity is part of the judging,” says Hal Chesser, chairman of the Vidalia Onion Cook-Off and Tasting. “Onion wine won last year and five cases were sampled.”
Creative cuisine with Vidalia onions abounds today, but when farmer Moses Coleman first pulled the famous onions from his field 75 years ago, he didn’t know what to make of them. Instead of being hot, the onions were mild and sweet enough to eat like apples. He sold the oddities for $3.50 a 50-pound bag, a pretty penny during the Depression, and nearby farmers took notice. In the 1940s, the sweet onions’ fame and name spread as travelers bought “those Vidalia onions” at the Vidalia Farmers Market.
Vidalias are grown on 15,000 acres in a 20-county region where nature provides the perfect mix of low-sulfur soil, abundant moisture and mild winters. The festival includes an onion-eating contest, parade, arts and crafts, and dancing. Tours of onion fields are available, and the Vidalia Onion Museum showcases the story of the vegetable that put Vidalia on the map.
For more information, log on to vidaliaonionfestival.com or call the Vidalia Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at (912) 538-8687.
By Marti Attoun, a food writer in Joplin, Mo.