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Happy Onion Ring Day!

It’s June! And we all know what that means, right?

Wait, nobody does? You guys don’t have a clue? Man, we really need to advertise more effectively if we want to get the same traction as Valentine’s Day or Christmas.

June is the month of everyone’s favourite versatile vegetable – the onion! Oddly enough, June has two official onion-based holidays – National Onion Ring Day on 22 June as well as National Onion Day on 27 June. What makes June such an oniony month? Is it because we are all crying stinging tears of joy that winter has finally passed us by, and summer is fully here? Is it because onion rings just taste better being eaten outside in the summer? Your guess is as good as ours.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of onions. They’re an incredibly versatile vegetable, and when I’m cooking – be it a roast, a curry, a soup, a Bolognese, or even a cheeseburger – my first move is usually to reach for an onion and get it going on a low heat. French onion soup is easily my favourite, and onion rings are often my snack of choice when I’m out and craving something deep-fried.

In doing my research for this holiday-inspired post, I learned something entirely unexpected: the age of onion rings. I assumed they must have popped up somewhere in the 1960s or 1970s when fast food was becoming more common and the bigger franchises that we know and love were gaining popularity. Little did I expect to find a recipe from an 1802 cookbook that marked the first description of onion rings. 1802! Thomas Jefferson had just been elected president and the Mad King, George III, would still reign in Great Britain for another 18 years.

From Mollard to Kirby’s

In it, John Mollard (a tavern cook, who we all know was on the very cutting edge of culinary technology back in the day), describes the recipe “Fried Onions with Parmesan Cheese”, involving battering round slices of onion, deep-frying them in lard, and serving them with melted butter and mustard. It seems, however, that Mollard’s invention didn’t quite catch on until the delightfully named Kirby’s Pig Stand (America’s first drive-in restaurant) in Texas added fried onion rings to their menu. Popular lore says that Kirby’s was the grandfather of modern-day fast-food restaurants, which makes sense when you look at the original menu: onion rings, French fries, milkshakes, and sandwiches.

Onions truly hold a special place in my heart. They rarely get the praise they deserve because they aren’t often the star of the dish, but take onions out of any given recipe and you’ll notice that the taste suffers. I’m certainly going to try to make these fantastic little bulb vegetables front-and-centre this June. And who knows? Maybe I’ll go ahead and try out the original recipe from John Mollard’s cookbook and see what it felt like to be chowing down on onion rings in an early 19th-century tavern. What would your recipe of choice be to honour National Onion Day?

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Tayla Blaire

Tayla Blaire is a South African writer, teacher, epicurean, and (most importantly) mother to all cats. Tayla has been thinking (and subsequently writing) about food since she was a tiny tot after her mother taught her that measuring ingredients was for the weak. If you’re interested to see what Tayla has whipped up recently, check out her Instagram profile @tayla.blaire to see the recipes that she has lovingly filmed in her very own too-small kitchen.

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