By Karen Cohen
Shallots are not onions and are similar to garlic. Shallots form small cloves that have a thin skin casing around them just like garlic. Much milder in flavor than onions, they do turn translucent when cooked. I love to cook with them because they have less of a sharp bite than onions and a bit sweeter. Filled with antioxidants and vitamins, I choose shallots over onions any day!
So we grow lots of shallots, French shallots to be exact. In the fall, we separate the shallot bulbs into individual cloves and push each one into the ground with our thumbs. Cover lightly with soil, then we pile a blanket of loose straw or chopped leaves on top. Over the winter the rain and snow will water the cloves. During the following spring, they will sprout above ground right through the straw or leaves. When the temperatures warm up, pull back the straw to allow the ground to warm up and the sprouted bulbs to get full sunlight. You can put a top dressing of rotted compost on your shallot bed to keep it from drying out and water lightly once a week if there is no rain. In 100-120 days, they are ready to dig up by early summer.
If you wish to grow shallots from seed, start seeds indoors about eight weeks before the last frost date. If you wish to plant directly into the soil, wait till about four weeks before your last frost. Seeds will grow and multiply to 3-4 shallot sets per plant. These can be placed in the ground in as a group and spaced about 6-8 inches apart. I keep allium family plants away from beans and peas; they do grow well with cabbages, carrots, mint and sage. Bonus: deer do not eat onions, garlic, or shallots, so these can be planted outside your vegetable garden. Mix them among your flower beds if you like.
Shallots are biennials; they produce a bulb their first year and then flower the second year. You can keep them in the ground if you wish to collect the seeds in their second year. Then replant the seeds. Apply compost as a side dressing at least once during the growing season. Shallots prefer loamy soil so they can send their roots down deep. Full sun and well-drained soil is required for strong growth and long storage after harvest. If the soil stays wet too long, the cloves can rot in the ground or quickly after they are harvested.
Varieties are numerous. We prefer French shallots which are smaller but sweeter and taste like a cross between garlic and onion. Saffron shallots are a hybrid and store longer than most. Pear shaped Grey Griselle flavor is purported to be the best. There’s also a Dutch variety and one called Camelot. Experiment with some of these to find the ones you like best.
Eventually in the summer, the stalks will dry up and keel over, that’s harvest time. When you harvest the shallots, lift each bulb out with a pitchfork and try not to slice into any. The roots hold on tight, so hand pulling is not recommended. A curing process is a required next step. The necks have to dry out like onions do and the outer leaves will also dry. We lay ours on horizontal screens in a covered shed which allows air to circulate. After two weeks of drying, we store them in a cool place; root cellars are great. Do not pile them on top of one another. One layer will give them the air circulation they need to keep out mildew and rot. Shallots can be stored for up to eight months, sometimes a bit longer. If you store apples and tomatoes, keep them away from shallots and onions since the ethylene gas can make shallots sprout.
Shallots can be eaten chopped raw in salad, pickled, fried, or sautéed. My favorite easy recipe is to caramelize sliced shallots cooked with minced garlic, add a few anchovies and a small can of tomato paste, a dash of olive oil, maybe a splash of good balsamic vinegar, toss on and mix with cooked angel hair pasta, finish with a few sprigs of fresh chopped basil or parsley and that’s it. Delish!
(Karen Cohen is a self-proclaimed Mistress of her organic garden, a lover of nature, and avid explorer. Please send your tips, comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Growing!)