What's in a name?

What's in a name?

ASHLAND — Melanie Kuegler's onions are so young and sweet, they aren't likely to induce tears.

Except, perhaps, when shoppers are too late to purchase a bunch.

"They disappear really fast," Kuegler said.

Spring onions from Kuegler's Blue Fox Farm sold out less than an hour after the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market opened on a recent Tuesday morning. Among the first farmers to bring "spring" onions to market, Kuegler and husband Chris Jagger overwintered the crop. The Walla Walla Sweets are about 3 inches in diameter and sell for $2 per bunch with their greens intact, Kuegler said.

"You can eat them raw," she said. "They have a better flavor."

Blue Fox, a certified organic operation in the Applegate Valley will sell spring onions through late summer. The season for scallions will start in mid-June.

While both spring onions and scallions can be long and thin, colored green on top and white on the bottom, there's a significant difference between the two.

Scallion bulbs are straight, do not bulge outward and are typically about 1/2 inch in diameter. Jagger said Blue Fox's, which they sell for $1.75 per bunch, will be about twice as thick as a pencil.

Spring onions have more of a bulb, and size depends on how long the plant is left in the soil. If harvested while still babies — which is done to thin out the beds or to cull the less-hardy plants — they're spring onions; if left to grow, they develop into regular onions.

Confusingly, either type is sometimes referred to as a green onion, at least in this country. And the nomenclature gets even more complicated elsewhere. The British use the term spring onion for both spring onions and scallions, and Australians call both of them shallots, although to someone from the U.S. that's another member of this allium family altogether.

But enough with the names. Because there's an obvious visual cue — the size of the bulb — let your eyes decide, and go from there.

Does it matter? It sure does. A spring onion can be used in recipes that call for scallions, giving an extra boost of sweet onion flavor, but the reverse isn't necessarily true because scallion bulbs are so small.

"I choose spring onions for the bulb," says James Peterson, author of "Vegetables" (Morrow, 1998). Peterson cuts off and discards the green tops, then glazes the plump bulbs or roasts them alongside a piece of meat.

Though scallions can be grilled, roasted or braised, they're usually sliced and diced and often are used raw. With their fresh, mild flavor, they are perfect for cold salads. They're a must in Asian cooking because they cook so quickly in stir-fries. Mexican food wouldn't be the same without them. Peterson loves what a handful of sliced scallions can do for a soup. "It just freshens the whole thing up," he says.

Both varieties need a good rinse, then the removal of the outer layer, any tough green stalks and the root. After that, the tender part of the green stalk and the white bulb, thin or fat, can be used — although not necessarily for the same thing.

Scallions are available year-round in supermarkets, but not so spring onions. When you spot the latter this month at farmers markets, grab them and do your own taste test. Pretty soon you'll be roasting those bulbs with the rest of us, saving the greens for salsa — and reverting to scallions once spring is over.

The growers market is held Tuesdays at the Ashland Armory, 1420 E. Main St., and Thursdays at the Medford Armory, 1701 S. Pacific Highway. Blue Fox has a stall at the market's Ashland session and at the Grants Pass Growers Market, 8;30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Saturdays, in the community parking lot, corner of F and Fourth streets.

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