The St. David’s Historical Society hosted the Bermuda Onion Day on Saturday [June 1] at Carter House, with people gathering to learn more about the onion and how it tied in with the island’s early settlers.
Different onion delicacies were available including onion soup, onion tarts, sandwiches, and onion pork soup, while locally grown onions and products made from onions were available for purchase. Attendees took time out to enjoy the historical replica house, and chat while enjoying the day’s fare.
Rick Spurling, President St. David’s Historical Society:
Introduced to the island in the early 1600s, the sweet and succulent Bermuda onions was first exported to the East Coast from St. George’s in 1847.
Onions quickly became Bermuda’s major export crop, with hundreds of farmers realising the market potential. By the middle of the 19th century Bermudians became known as “Onions” and Bermuda itself was widely referred to as “The Onion Patch”.
“There were times when over 4,000 tons of onions were shipped to the US,” said one historian writing of the onion trade. “The onion export from Bermuda continued for decades thereafter until the First World War [1914-18] when shipping almost came to a halt and thereby badly impacting the export of onions.
“Following World War One, although the onion export from Bermuda started again, the US imposed higher import duties slowing it down considerably. More over, by then a farmer community in the Texas started developing their own onions and even called them Bermuda Onions to sell and export them easily.
“Bermuda now had a fierce competitor to which it had to finally give up. The Texas farmers had the advantage of using North America’s new railway system to move and export their locally grown onions in bulk quantities.”
In the 1930s, Bermuda Trade Development Board tried to curb the trend by sending postcards to their overseas buyers that stated: “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, but whatever it is the flavor tells the difference immediately. Be careful then to always look for the crate… See that it is marked ‘from Bermuda Islands’ and you’ll know you are getting the real thing.”
But it was an exercise in futility and the era of Bermuda farmers exporting onions came to an end, with tourism replacing agriculture as the island’s economic mainstay. However the nickname endures, with Bermudians often referred to as “onions.”
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