As the 2021 vegetable seed catalogs show up in the mailbox, it is time to look at what might be a new or interesting vegetable variety to consider planting this spring. Some of these varieties may or may not be better or superior to the old tried and true ones but they usually offer distinctive characteristics such as different colors, or size of the vegetable. Other attributes are whether they can be grown in a container or pot, have enhanced disease resistance or a unique taste or flavor. As with many activities in life we gardeners sometimes get into the proverbial “rut” growing the same thing each year.
These new varieties help to expand our horticultural palate and, who knows, we might find something new that is neat, easier to grow, great tasting or provides greater yields.
The All-American Selections organization (all-americanselections.org), a nonprofit group established and supported by the flower and vegetable seed breeders. Each year AAS announces its yearly “Winners” for new introductions of flowers and vegetables. According to the AAS, the winner selections are the result being trialed at AAS Trial Ground locations around the country where breeders have their new, never-before-sold varieties grown and compared against industry-standard varieties by a panel of unbiased, volunteer judges. AAS Trial Grounds are located at breeding facilities, seed companies, public gardens, universities, and other locations.
For 2021, an AAS Winner is the Echalion Creme Brulee shallot. This echalion is the first-ever shallot to win the AAS Winner designation. According to the AAS the shallot is “Easy to peel, single-centered bulbs have a bright coppery pink outer skin and a pretty rosy-purple interior with thick rings. The sweet tender bulbs are earlier to mature than the comparisons and have a slight citrusy flavor when eaten raw. When caramelized, things get even better as the natural sugars are enhanced and do not leave any overpowering aftertastes. A fantastic variety for the home gardener as well as farm or fresh market growers.”
Now a little explanation about shallots. One of the easiest vegetables to grow in the garden are onions, whether red, white, purple, or yellow. Onions are members of the lily family and are versatile in that their green foliage can be harvested for green unions or we can let the bulb continue to grow to mature. The mature bulb is then edible. There are many different varieties of onions.
Shallots are also members of the lily family like onions. Some people think that shallots are a variety of onions, but they are actually a different species. They are smaller than onions and look more like garlic. They have a flavor like an onion but are sweeter and more refined. The traditional shallot has the shape of an elongated golf ball. When you cross an onion with a shallot you get what is labeled a Banana shallot or echalion.
The echalion is pronounced in its elongated shape. They are the largest variety and are named for their size. They have a smooth, tan-colored skin and are easier to peel. As they’re larger, they’re swifter to prepare than the same volume of smaller shallots. They have a milder, sweeter taste than onions and can be used as a substitute for onions. Banana shallots are also less aromatic than a true shallot. They are, however, more expensive.
One of the differences between onions and shallots is that the inside of an onion consists of concentric circles. Onions are also annuals. Shallots, on the other hand, are perennial plants which seldom produces seed, but the bulb, when planted divides into several cloves or small bulblets which remain attached at the bottom. Like garlic, shallots are formed in clusters of offsets with a head composed of multiple cloves. It is sometimes grown for the dry bulbs but usually for the young plants which are used as green onions. Shallot is grown by planting the small bulbs in the same manner as onion sets their subsequent care and cultivation are the same. It is also grown as a bunching onion.
So, spice up your cooking efforts this year with shallots! Happy Gardening!