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Garlic and onions1 are invoked by the Egyptians2, when taking an oath, in the number of their deities. The Greeks have many varieties3 of the onion, the Sardian onion, the Samothracian, the Alsidenian, the setanian, the schistan, and the Ascalonian,4 so called from Ascalon,5 a city of Judæa. They have, all of them, a pungent smell, which6 draws tears from the eyes, those of Cyprus more particularly, and those of Cnidos the least of all. In all of them the body is composed of a cartilage of an unctuous7 nature. The variety known as the setanian is the smallest of them all, with the exception of the Tusculan8 onion, but it is sweet to the taste. The schistan9 and the Ascalonian kinds are used for storing. The schistan onion is left during the winter with the leaves on; in the spring it is stripped of them, upon which offsets make their appearance at the same divisions as the leaves; it is to this circumstance that this variety owes its name. Taking the hint from this fact, it is recommended to strip the other kinds of their leaves, to make them bulb all the better, instead of running to seed.

The Ascalonian onion is of a peculiar nature, being barren in some measure in the root; hence it is that the Greeks have recommended it to be reproduced from seed, and not from roots: the transplanting, too, they say, should be done later in the spring, at the time the plant germinates, the result being that it bulbs with all the greater rapidity, and hastens, as it were, to make up for lost time; great dispatch, however, is requisite in taking it up, for when ripe it rots with the greatest rapidity. If propagated from roots, it throws out a long stalk, runs rapidly to seed, and dies.

There are considerable differences, too, in the colour of the onion; the whitest of all are those grown at Issus and Sardes. The onions, too, of Crete are held in high esteem, but there is some doubt whether they are not the same as the Ascalonian variety; for when grown from seed they produce a fine bulb, but when planted they throw out a long stalk and run to seed; in fact, they differ from the Ascalonian kind only in the sweetness of their flavour.

Among us there are two principal varieties known of the onion; the scallion, employed for seasonings, is one, known to the Greeks by the name of "gethyon," and by us as the "pallacana;" it is sown in March, April, and May. The other kind is the bulbed or headed10 onion; it is sown just after the autumnal equinox, or else after the west winds have begun to prevail. The varieties of this last kind, ranged according to their relative degrees of pungency, are the African onion, the Gallic, the Tusculan, the Ascalonian, and the Amiternian: the roundest in shape are the best. The red onion, too, is more pungent than the white, the stored than the fresh, the raw than the cooked, and the dried than the preserved. The onion of Amiternum is cultivated in cold, humid localities, and is the only one that is reproduced from heads,11 like garlic, the other kinds being grown from seed. This last kind yields no seed in the ensuing summer, but a bulb only, which dries and keeps; but in the summer after, the contrary is the case, for seed is produced, while the bulb very quickly spoils. Hence it is that every year there are two separate sowings, one of seed for the reproduction of bulbs, and one of bulbs for the growth of seed; these onions keep best in chaff. The scallion has hardly any bulb at all, but a long neck only—hence it is nothing but leaf, and is often cut down, like the leek; for this reason, too, like the leek, it is grown from seed, and not from plants.

In addition to these particulars, it is recommended that the ground intended for sowing onions should be turned up three times, care being taken to remove all roots and weeds; ten pounds of seed is the proper proportion for a jugerum. Savory too, they say, should be mixed with them, the onions being all the finer for it; the ground, too, should be stubbed and hoed four times at least, if not oftener. In Italy, the Ascalonian onion is sown in the month of February. The seed of the onion is gathered when it begins to turn black, and before it becomes dry and shrivelled.

1 The Allium cepa of Linnæus

2 The inhabitants of Pelusium, more particularly, were devoted to the worship of the onion. They held it, in common with garlic, in great aversion as an article of food. At Pelusium there was a temple also in which the sea-squill was worshipped.

3 With some little variation, from Theophrastus, Hist. Plant. B. vii. c. 4.

4 Supposed to be identical with the Allium Ascalonicum of Linnæus, the clalotte. Pliny is the only writer who mentions the Alsidenian onion.

5 To the Ascalonian onion, the scallion, or ciboul, owes its English name.

6 Owing to the acetic acid which the bulb contains, and which acts on the membranes of the eye.

7 "Pinguitudinis."

8 Fée queries whether the early white onion of Florence, the smallest now known among the cultivated kinds, may not possibly be identical with the setanian, or else the Tusculan, variety.

9 From σχίζω, to "divide" or "tear off."

10 "Capitata."

11 For this reason, Fée is inclined to regard it as a variety either of garlic, Allium sativum, or of the chalotte, Allium Ascaionicum of Linnæus.

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