Tohono O'odham I'Itoi Onions
(Allium cepa )
The I'Itoi onion is one of several examples of important ethnobotanical plants that have been saved from extinction by devoted home gardeners. It's history is closely associated with the desert tribes of O'odham Indians of the American Southwest. According to legend this onion was first gathered from the I'Itoi Mountain a sacred place believed to the navel of the earth and birthplace of mankind. For centuries the I'Itoi onion played a role in O'odham ceremony, medicine and food.
Ms.Ida Lopez of the Papago Indian Reservation rescued the I'Itoi onion from extinction. In the 1980s she brought the tiny, purple shallot-like bulbs to researchers at the Native Seeds/SEARCH Project. Through their efforts numerous collectors in the Southwest propagated the onion and it has recently a small foothold with chefs in the Sonoran region. The I'Itoi onion appears on the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste.
I'Itoi onions share characteristics with true shallots and clumping onions. The bulbs are small with a lovely purple/red color in their youth. The are drought tolerant but if given steady water they can establish themselves as a perennial source for onion 'chives.' The bulbs have a sharp onion/shallot flavor.
These Tohono shallots were grown organically in my garden in the Valley of the Moon. They have had some difficulty adjusting to their first year of Northern California climate. Or perhaps the difficulty is mine. Either way they are a keeper based upon their history and interesting growth characteristics. Its now up to the chefs to explore their kitchen potential.
Seed Source: Private Collector