What’s so great about Walla Walla sweet onions?

They’re Washington’s official vegetable, and they’re in season right now. Here’s why you should give them a try — especially raw and crunchy.

SOME PEOPLE ARE still mad about the whole Washington state vegetable thing. Seems that a vocal agricultural contingent agitated for it to be, of all things, the potato. Sure, potatoes are great, but come on — Idaho owns the potato, and everybody knows it. They’ve even formally claimed it, in case a million potato postcards, T-shirts and keychains weren’t sufficient. To try to wrest the potato from Idaho’s hands — it’s a PR nightmare. Also, potatoes are lumps covered in eyes. And while no one sane would deny the goodness of French fries, hash browns, potatoes gratin, vichyssoise, etc., these foods aren’t exactly thrilling.

Washington deserved better and, starting in 2004, kids at Kirkland Junior High, and later, Eatonville Middle School, lobbied for a more sensational choice. Then, finally, the meanies at the Washington State Potato Commission dropped their countercampaign and got out of the way of history: In 2007, Gov. Chris Gregoire declared the Walla Walla sweet onion Washington’s official vegetable mascot.

Next to a potato, a Walla Walla sweet is an elusive, alluring superstar, the kind with both the witty repartee and the winning smile. Rubenesque, with gossamer skin, they don’t stand by, waiting for you to eat whenever you want; these delicate beauties are only available in season, from mid-June through August. Their high moisture content means they must be harvested, lovingly, by hand. Like a fine wine, Walla Walla sweets reify their terroir; their sweetness comes from a low amount of sulfur in the soil of the region (which also happens to produce fine wine). And this matter of terroir is a serious one: An onion must be grown in the designated area of the great state of Washington to be legally called a Walla Walla sweet.

Given the appeal of this…

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