Laureates, Bohemians and how do you like them onions

The City of Victoria has appointed its first Poet Laureate: she is Carla Funk, Vanderhoof’s most famous daughter. In a city crawling with poets, I found it a little surprising that only eight threw their names in the ring (no, I did not). Perhaps the $1500 a year stipend dampened their passion.

According to a city development planner quoted in the article, Victoria stands at number 3 in North America on the Bohemian Index which ranks artistic and creative occupations of our residents. Actually that’s not entirely correct: in the information I found, we rank number 3 in a list adjusted for size – i.e. cities of 250,000 to 500,000 – behind Santa Barbara CA and Sarasota FL, and just above Madison WI and Albuquerque NM.

One of my favourite magazines is BBC Good Food, which I always pick up when I’m in England, or occasionally when I’m feeling flush in Canada. An issue from April 2005 surfaced in the magazine basket, and I read all about onions. We are told that we tear up when cutting onions because of allicin, although I found conflicting advice and more conflicting advice that the problem substance is actually a sulfide that breaks down into a volatile gas called syn-propanethial-S-oxide.

Whichever it is, the sulphuric compound produced when you slice the onion reacts with the moisture in your eyes to produce trace amounts of sulphuric acid, and the tears we produce to wash it away simply aggravate the problem.

The good news from plant chemistry is that “Allicin and syn-propanethial S-oxide have strong feeding deterrent activity toward herbivores such as insects.” Unfortunate that it doesn’t deter the feeding effects of carnivorous insects, but at least it supports folk wisdom about the benefits of planting garlic and onions around your rose bushes.

You can reduce the tearing effects by chilling onions before cutting. Alternatively, the Onion-USA site advises that the cells that release the sulfuric compounds are concentrated at the base of the onion, so you should cut the top and peel down without trimming off the root end until the last possible moment.

Or, like me, you could make sure nobody is around when you’re cutting and use a pair of safety goggles. I used to have a handy onion chopper that was no more than a jar with a chopping blade, and that worked well too. Looks like there are lots of variations of these devices on the market these days.

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