The onion is a biennial herbaceous plant of the Amaryllidaceae family and the Allium genre that has many sub-species and hundreds of varieties ranging from the white onion to yellow to pink and red. It has been garden grown for more than 5,000 years as a vegetable mostly for its aromatic bulb but also for its leaves. The white Vaugirard onion is a so-called early variety that is planted at the end of summer to be harvested the following spring. Therefore it is a hardy variety, spending all winter in the ground, resisting the cold; this is why it is especially indicated in the regions north of the Loire. Its bulbs are large and slightly flattened. Historically the onion was cultivated in the Paris area because it was a traditional production, indispensable to the market garden areas surrounding large cities. In Paris, the early varieties, put into bunches, first arrived at the Halles markets at the time of the early onions. It is gathered before ripening, when the bulb is still small and the leaves are quite green, unlike the onion called “on duty” that are harvested in summer, about 6 months after planting.
Three ancient varieties bear the memory of their location near Paris: the “little Paris”, the “Malakoff” (the earliest) and the Vaugirard; this last refers to the old Seine district that had been, up to the Restoration, a farming village and market garden (the village of Vaugirard) before being integrated into the 15th Parisian district. The Vertus onions, which are yellow, come from the Vertus Plain, a large market garden plain located to the north of Paris.
The Vaugirard white onion has a very irregular production and it is a variety that is susceptible to mildew. Moreover, onions grown in France have to compete with other EU country onions like the Netherlands (1,172,000 tons a year) and also world competition: European production only represents 8% of world production.
There are not many market farmers who still grow them. One of them, Laurent Berrurier, a market gardener on the Oise, told us he grows about 500 kilos a year.
Put into perspective: in France, 7,200 hectares of onions are grown for about 321,000 tons harvested, coming mainly from the centre of France (32%).
Trois anciennes variétés portent la mémoire de leur localisation proche de Paris : le “petit Paris”, le “Malakoff” (le plus hâtif) et le Vaugirard ; le dernier faisant référence à l’ancienne commune du département de la Seine qui était jusqu’à la Restauration un village agricole et de maraîchage (le village de Vaugirard) avant d’être intégré au XVème arrondissement de Paris. L’oignon des Vertus, jaune celui-là, arrivait de la Plaine des Vertus, grande plaine de maraîchage située au nord de la région parisienne.
L’oignon blanc de Vaugirard donne une production très irrégulière, et c’est une variété qui se révèle sensible au mildiou. De plus, les oignons cultivés en France doivent faire face à la concurrence d’autres pays européens comme les Pays-Bas (1 172 000 tonnes/an), et aussi à la concurrence mondiale, la production européenne ne représentant que 8 % de la production mondiale.
Les maraichers qui la cultivent encore sont peu nombreux. L’un d’eux, Laurent Berrurier, maraîcher dans l’Oise, nous a dit en produire environ 500 kilos/an.
Pour perspective : en France, 7200 hectares d’oignons sont cultivés pour environ 321 000 tonnes d’oignons récoltés, provenant principalement du centre de la France (32%).