Do you think early New England settlers braided onions as a means to store them after harvest? I wondered this when faced with the trays of onion and garlic bulbs harvested a couple of days previously and set on a covered porch to dry.
Braiding onions should be a no-brainer for anyone who knows how to braid hair. However, my previous braids often unwound from the bottom unless secured with twine. A handy onion braiding guide recently published in Organic Gardening magazine’s email newsletter explained how to start the braid so it will hold without twine at the lower end.
Before braiding, though, bulbs must be brushed free of clinging soil … a rather slow, tedious task that allowed my mind to wander back to the era of American settlers. I imagined what a colonial woman had to go through to prepare her garden plots. Gardening tasks fell to the women so my imagined colonist, Prudence, had to loosen her beds by hand, add manure from the family’s animals, weed, watch, hope for ample rain and finally harvest the onions (from what I’ve read, early colonists did not grow garlic) that would help feed her family for the next year.
After harvesting she probably let them rest on the soil in the sun to dry and cure for a day or two. Prudence surely would have sought the cooling shade of a large tree to rest under while brushing her work-worn hands over each precious bulb to remove clumps of clingy soil. As she braided, Prudence probably monitored the nearby gardening or animal tending chores of some of her children. She may have had a daughter by her side to teach the youngster to braid.
I suspect Prudence enjoyed the brief set-a-spell rest she was able to enjoy, and that her braids looked much neater than mine. While braiding, her mind likely wandered to all of the other tasks she needed to complete that day – beans to pick and a stew to stir.
My braids, no doubt, are not nearly as attractive or proficiently done as Prudence’s, but as I see them hanging in my modern kitchen with all its conveniences I have an overwhelming appreciation for the fortitude Prudence’s people … my people … brought to this land.