Okla. Digging wild onions near her home east of Tahlequah
is a spring tradition for Cherokee elder Dorothy Ice.
digs the onions quickly as her long kitchen knife loosens the thin
green plants, 6-8 inches tall, from the dirt near a small stream
in Pumpkin Hollow. At the bottom of the plant are nearly flat bulbs
with roots. She will later trim the roots and eat the bulbs along
with the green stalks.
smiles and laughs as she recalls lessons her parents taught her
about picking the onions and living off the land during all four
never went hungry," she said. "My mother canned fruit, green beans,
poke salad. She never froze any food. She always canned it."
remembers how her mother would leave a pot of brown beans cooking
while they dug wild onions and how the beans would be ready for
supper along with the wild onions and eggs.
cook wild onions is simple, Ice said.
doesn't take long to cook the onions. It takes about as long as
it takes the eggs to cook," she said.
a cast-iron skillet is the best way to cook the eggs and onion,
Ice suggested. After the onions are finely chopped, she puts the
onions and eggs in the greased skillet and keeps stirring the mixture
until it thickens, about five minutes, and the eggs are cooked.
said wild onions are best eaten right after they are picked because
the plants do not usually freeze well or keep their flavor after
who is 74, said she usually starts digging wild onions in February
and continues digging them into May. She uses a kitchen knife to
dig with, but said a 10- to 12-inch file is the best tool she has
found for digging wild onions out of the ground.
usually start the third week in February until it's all gone. You
can still eat the stems if that's all that's left (in May)," she
said she usually goes alone to dig onions because it allows her
"to pick and loaf" if she wants.
wild onion diggers have a secret spot where they go, but Ice said
she doesn't have one and digs onions "just wherever."
just drive around until I see a spot where I think there would be
onions and then I get out and pick them," she said.
wild plants were late this year due to cold weather and snow in
March, but Ice said the wild onion arrived on schedule. In February,
the onions are about 3 inches tall, she said, and around the first
of April the plant is about 8 inches tall and begins to grow seeds
near the top of its stalk.
important lesson her mother taught her about digging onion was to
not mistake crow poison for wild onions. The plant looks similar
to wild onions, she said, with its green stalk. But, she added,
if you set the plants side by side you can see the crow poison has
a round bulb instead of a nearly flat one like wild onions. Also,
crow poison usually has a shorter stalk and white flowers bloom
on some of the stalks.
(her mother) said just one stem (of crow poison) will ruin a whole
pot of onions when you're cooking it," Ice said.
ensure she has wild onions to dig next year, Ice cleans the onions
where she digs them and throws the roots on the ground. If she takes
the onions home to clean, she said she throws the roots in her yard.
have wild onions growing in the edge of the yard right now," she
said with a smile.