Ingredients also make for nice kitchen decorations
Onions are an easy crop, one that doesn't require much attention. Water and weed – that's about it. But toward the end of summer, you need to watch them to see whether they've flopped. When the leaves lie down in the row, it means the bulbs have stopped growing and are ready for harvest.
When this happens, check the weather. It's best to pull onions during a sunny spell. Simply lift them and lay the whole plants on the ground in tidy rows to dry out and cure. The idea is to let the tops turn brown, all the way down to the bulbs, so that the necks will tighten and seal the bulb against deterioration. A brief shower is harmless, but if genuine rain is coming, bring them under cover to finish the job. Spread them on a floor, table or screen in a place that's well ventilated and dry.
Soft-neck garlic can be harvested like onions. Hardneck garlic is pulled when the tops start to brown but there are still about six green leaves on top. Bring both under cover right away to dry and cure.
New onions and garlic can be eaten immediately and are outstanding when fresh, but their main virtue is that they last many months in storage. An ideal space is dark, cold and frost-free, but not moist like a root cellar.
Like many cooks, though, I don't feel secure unless I have a working stash of onions and garlic within easy reach. In the kitchen, there's always a bucket, bin or basket – anything that works, but never the fridge, where too much moisture might make them rot.
You can also treat them as a kitchen display. This concept appeals to anyone who likes rustic kitchen decor, but even if the theme is stainlesssteel modern, the sight of onions and garlic in a kitchen gives one a feeling that the cook cares about flavor and that the upcoming meal will not be bland. (You might have already sensed that upon entering, from the pungent aroma of a bubbling pot.)
Hanging food pantries are picturesque, especially if your kitchen ceiling has exposed beams from which to suspend them, but they have limitations. Ristras of dried red chiles look gorgeous at first, before they lose color from too much light. So do bundles of upside-down herbs, which, if too close to the action, crumble from the careless swish of a tea towel. Both gather dust.
But none of that happens to onions and garlic, which are neatly protected by their skins. So you can braid their tops to form a tidy hanging column and snip off one at a time as needed.
Hard-neck garlic from the author's garden is displayed in a tall container. If you grow soft-neck garlic, you can braid it and hang it from the kitchen ceiling, a technique that works for onons as well.