Every once in a while I write a spotlight post about a variety of vegetable that I grow and that I particularly like. I started this series when Liz at Suburban Tomato started the meme as Saturday Spotlight. Liz hasn't been blogging for quite some time but her page with links to Spotlight posts written by herself and other bloggers is still standing. I've dropped the Saturday aspect of the series since I only occasionally get around to writing up a post and they rarely get published on Saturday, but I do keep a list of my posts on my Variety Spotlights page. Dave at Our Happy Acres also maintains a list of Variety Spotlights so you should go check his favorites also.
Zebrune shallots have proven their worth in my garden for 2 years and I'm growing them again for 2017 so I think it's time to do a Spotlight post about them since it seems that they've become a fixture in my garden and kitchen.
This type of shallot is often called a banana shallot because of its shape. In France it is called Cuisse de Poulet which translates as chicken thigh or it may be called Oignons Piriformes meaning pear-shaped or spindle-shaped onion. Botanically shallots and onions are both Allium cepa so technically it's not incorrect to call a shallot an onion. Most shallots are Allium cepa var. aggregatum and are generally grown from sets planted in the late fall. They sprout in the spring and divide to form clumps of bulbs. Banana shallots are different in that they are not aggregating onions, they generally produce a single bulb, and they are grown from seed. They also differ from aggregating shallots because of their large size and elongated shape. Their size and shape came from having been originally bred by crossing a typical shallot with a long onion, an onion which would have been similar to the Rossa Lunga di Firenze onion that I've also been growing for the last couple of years.
In my mild zone 9b climate I can sow my seeds as early as November and as late as January along with the onion varieties that I grow from seeds. I sow all the seeds into a 4-inch pot and allow them to grow for 8 to 10 weeks before separating the seedlings and setting them out in the garden. The earlier the start the larger the bulbs. Like any other onion they are day length sensitive so they start to form bulbs when the days are long enough regardless of how large they are. Some of the earliest started plants form bulbs that are as large as the smaller Rossa Lunga di Firenze onions.
The way my drip irrigation system is set up dictates how far apart the rows are - mostly about 9 inches. I've been setting the shallots out 4 inches apart along the rows. In the winter I have to cover up the little seedlings because the birds like to pluck at them, not because they like to eat them but I suppose because they think they might be tasty.
Later in the season I can uncover all the onions and allow them to grow on. When the greens start to fall over it indicates that it is time to lift them. Once a few of them start to topple over I'll go through the patch and bend over all the stalks.
In 2016 I lifted all the shallots on July 29 when the tops started to die down, they were the last of the alliums to come out of the garden. In 2015 I didn't note the date that I lifted the shallots but it was also at the end of July. You can see in the photo above that some of the tops were still quite green but I needed to make room in the bed where they were growing so they all had to come out.
As with any onion they can be harvested before they need to be lifted and cured. In particular I will cull the few that may bolt and the ones that split. The youngest ones are also good used when they are in the scallion stage but I tend to not harvest them that young because I always set out extra onions to be used as spring onions.
One of the things that I most like about these shallots is that they keep extremely well. Back in November I was using the last of the shallots at the same time that I was sowing the seeds for this year's crop. It is the longest keeping allium that I've grown. I keep them in a cool dark closet in a basket. I do have to keep an eye on them for sprouting and spoilage, some of them split into 2 or 3 bulbs within the outer wrapper and that makes them more prone to spoiling in storage so I try to use those first. After that I try to use the smallest ones because they shrink over time as the out layers dry out and the smallest ones eventually shrink down to almost nothing. I tend to use the bulk of the crop after I've run out of onions, they make a good stand in for regular onions in many dishes.
Zebrune is one variety of banana shallot and the easiest to find seeds for, I've purchased seed from both Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek. It's been easy to grow, reliable, delicious, and a good keeper. So it is a keeper indeed.