Wild Onions: A Choctaw Tradition
Spring has finally arrived in Choctaw Nation. The weather is getting warmer, the landscape is finally starting to look green again, and wild onions are waiting to be gathered. Soon Choctaw Nation tribal members will begin gathering and preparing these wild onions in preparation for family gatherings, church events, and community functions. Today we know these events as wild onion dinners. In this month’s Iti Fabvssa we will look closely at wild onion dinners, why they are held and their significance to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
Wild onion dinners are held among the southeastern tribes that are living in Oklahoma today. These tribes, known as the 5 Civilized Tribes, consist of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole. Each tribe will have their own way of carrying out the wild onion dinners. Today in the Choctaw Nation you will frequently see the dinners being used as church fundraisers. Wild onions may also be served at family gatherings, stickball games, and gospel singings.
The first step in the process of wild onion dinners will be the actual gathering of the wild onions. This is a skill that takes time and practice to master.
Wild onions are typically gathered in February or March. Gatherers use small shovels to dig the onions out of the ground. When choosing wild onions, the gatherer must pay close attention and be careful not to pick onions that are too large, as they tend to get tough. The wild onions are usually best when they are small, around 4 to 5 inches tall. Once the wild onions have bulbs on the ends they are no longer good. It is also easy to confuse wild onions with different plants that closely resemble them. A gatherer must pay close attention so that they don’t gather a different plant that looks like the wild onions, but can be poisonous. It is also easy to confuse wild onions, which have a flat leaf, with garlic, which has a round leaf. It will take several gallons of the wild onions to feed a large number of people. For example, to feed a group of 20 people you will need about two gallons of wild onions.
Once the wild onions have been gathered, it is time to prepare them. When performing this second step, it is important that the onions be trimmed and cleaned very well. You must wash the onions until all the dirt is gone, which can sometimes be tricky as the dirt can get inside the layers of the onion. Cleaning and trimming the wild onions is similar to the process used when cleaning green onions.
Once the onions are cleaned and trimmed, you can move on to the third step which is cooking the onions. The onions will need to be boiled in water until they become tender. To add flavor, you can always add the drippings from bacon or the ever-loved Choctaw favorite, salt pork. Once the onions are tender, you can eat them as is or add them to scrambled eggs. Most often the wild onions are served up with scrambled eggs.
While the scrambled eggs and wild onions are the star of the wild onion dinners, many other Choctaw traditional foods will be served as well. Many times you will find tanchi labona, salt pork, pinto beans, and fry bread served. The traditional Choctaw dessert, grape dumplings, will be served along with pies, cakes, and cobblers.
While the wild onion dinners take a great amount of time and preparation from talented Choctaw cooks, they are worth the effort. These dinners have become a part of the life that the Choctaws have established in Oklahoma. They bring together families, friends, and communities. The dinners provide an environment in which our traditional Choctaw songs, dances, stories, and games can be carried out. Wild onion dinners contain elements of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma’s culture that must be carried on. Through these dinners we have the ability to pass on Choctaw cooking, stories, spirituality, history, and pride to our future generations. So this spring let’s get out and enjoy not only the season, but also help preserve and ensure the survival of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma wild onion dinners.
A special thanks to Mary Frazier, Vangie Robinson, and the Blaine family for the information that was shared for this article.