Beaches, watersports, tropical foliage – these are probably the first things that come to mind when you think of Bermuda. However, if you had asked a traveller in the 19th century, they would likely say… onions.
There's a good explanation for the connection between the island and the onion. Here’s a look at the role that onions have played in Bermuda's history.
The Rise of the Bermuda Onion
First brought to Bermuda in 1616, onions grew so well on the island that they soon became a staple crop. The island’s onions were normally bulb-shaped with a sweet and mild taste. They came in red, purple, yellow and white.
It is the flavour of a genuine ‘Bermuda’ that is so different. Maybe it is the sunshine and sea breezes down in beautiful Bermuda or some magic in the soil that is responsible . . .
- Postcard from Bermuda Trade Development Board, 1930s
By the mid-1800s, farmers began to realise the value of their crop and started trading Bermuda onions to the U.S. East Coast. As weekly onion shipments increased and sometimes topped more than 30,000 boxes, Americans began to call Bermuda “The Onion Patch” and nicknamed Bermudians “Onions.”
Bermuda Onions Today
Though the onion trade eventually dwindled due to World War I and the growth of the crop elsewhere, Bermudians are still proud of their onion heritage. Homages to the onion can be seen throughout the island at places like Frog & Onion Pub and the Pickled Onion in Hamilton.
In the spring, local Bermuda onions make an appearance at produce stands and in a variety of local dishes, such as Bermuda onion soup and Bermuda fish chowder.
One special day is set aside during Bermuda's annual Heritage Month in May to celebrate the food staple. An all-day event takes place at the historic Carter House in St. David’s where you can sample some traditional and unusual onion-based cuisine.
Mark Twain, the famous American author and frequent Bermuda visitor, said this of the island onions:
The onion is the pride and joy of Bermuda. It is her jewel, her gem of gems. In her conversation, her pulpit, her literature, it is her most frequent and eloquent figure.
- Mark Twain
And Bermudians wouldn't have it any other way.