Here in Colorado, March is the snowiest month, with nearly a foot of snowfall on average in the Denver metropolitan area. Yet, near the month's end relatively warm temperatures, coupled with low precipatation, have resulted in bone dry grass, wind-swept dunes at the edges of fields, and ashy dirt collecting in porch corners and window sills, the latter remnants of the January grass fire that swept through the open space west of our rural neighborhood. But BIG SNOW is on the way, according to local weather reports: 8-16 inches in the Denver area with more in the foothills.
The impending snow storm on my mind this afternoon, I was suddenly inspired to harvest my first bunch of onions for a grilled salmon recipe I modified from a baked version created by Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. For the past month I have been watching our walking onions grow. A gift left behind by the former owners of our property, these perennial bunching onions allow us to enjoy a garden harvest long before any annuals are even planted. Also known as tree, topsetting, Egyptian or Cattawissa onions, these curious plants set multiple bulblets on top of stems, which then bend to the ground and root, sending up new shoots next to the first plant, in walking fashion.
While walking onions can produce year-round depending on the climate, I let ours rest and rejuvinate over the winter, with passive minimal mulching from whatever leaves happen to blow into the garden. As hardy perennials, walking onions are remarkably resilient in arid climates such as Colorado's. And this time of year, the young onions are particularly sweet and tender.
After pulling, cleaning and dicing six or so onions, I topped the salmon with dried dill along with the onions and wrapped in foil for grilling. Sealing the generous amount of onions in the foil provides a solid balance for the strong salmon flavor. This chilly evening, as we grilled in our warm fleece jackets, we watched the wall of clouds looming over the mountains. The onions may very well be covered in a white blanket by tomorrow evening. But they will survive and can surely use the moisture. And tonight we enjoyed our first garden harvest, a mere taste of the mouth-watering joys to come later in the season.
Update March 26, 2009: Since the snow storm started in the middle of the night, we've received about 12 inches, and the snow is still falling. Here's what my walking onions look today, 24 hours after the first picture above. I think a few days may pass before I pull onions again. But in Colorado, spring snow melts fast.