Thursday, 18 February 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Sweet Onions from the Cévennes

Onions are a staple in our household and driving around our area you can see ranks of spring onions (and smell them) on the slopes around Pershore. This pales in comparison however to the sight of onions growing on steep south facing terraces in the Cévennes hills. The Cévennes are a mountain range in the Languedoc that is also a National Park. To survive here, man had to completely adjust his territory and the natural slopes have been replaced by the continuous piles of terraces, bancels or faissas, running from the valley floor right up to the hill crest. This gigantic work often required that stone and, especially, earth was transported on men's backs using large baskets called terrairaus, which were also used for carrying manure and bringing in the harvest.

You may have heard of the Cévennes from the writings of Robert Louis Stephenson (author of Treasure Island and the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) who trekked through them in 1878, on foot with a donkey called Modestine. The record of his journey was published in 1879 and is called Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.

It's not known how long the Cévennes have been growing onions but the Occitan word for onion is ceba and the name Cévennes comes from the Gaulish Cebenna, which was Latinized by Julius Caesar to Cevenna – which makes me think that onion growing has been going on for thousands of years here.

The sweet onion from the Cévennes was awarded an AOC in 2003 (the only other is the AOC for the pink onions from Roscoff in Brittany which was awarded in 2009) and have a mild, sweet, soft satiny texture. They are called the Oignon Doux des Cévennes and are from the species Allium cepa L (L means that they belong the Lily family) which are bulb onions. Named varieties grown in the Cévennes are the St André, Cénol, Toli, Jaune des Cévennes and Rayolle des Cévennes.


Susan said...

You are a wealth of information and I so enjoy reading your postings. In fact, I have marked you as one of my favorites on my blog and hope you get many more visitors. What you and Nick write should not be missed.

Sue said...

That's so kind of you Susan - thank you!