Allium cepa, aggregatum group, aka Allium ascalonicum
The common onion, A. cepa, is planted from seeds and grown out to a single bulb. Shallots are mulitplying onions, but asexually propagated from a bulb. Fall planted, along with garlic, each shallot will aggregate, divide into a cluster. Like garlic, shallots are likely to have originated in Central Asia and dispersed as far away as South and Southeastern Asia and the Middle East. Shallots were given their name by Greek merchant traders who discovered them in the ancient Palestinian port city of Ashkelon, thus A. acsalonicum. Though founded as far back as 2000 BCE, Ashkelon was much fought over and changed hands many times. Whereas garlic was originally introduced to Europe via the Roman Legions, the shallot is said to have been brought to Europe from the Middle East by returning Crusaders and later popularized by Charles the Great, aka Emperor Charlemagne in early 9th century CE. Destroyed in the 13th century, Ashkelon was reestablished under the Ottomans a few hundred years later. It was last conquered by Israel in 1948. By then, the shallot had spread and is now a feature of cuisines worldwide.
Milder in pungency than the common onion, shallots have a distinct flavor. Used raw in salads, cooked in sauces, ground into curries or caramelized as a condiment, they are a delight in the kitchen and easy to grow. Shallots with some acrid raw flavor tend to have more complex flavor when sautéd, while those that are mild and sweeter excel in salads and other raw preparations. While many shallots are similar in appearance, diversity is quite apparent in plant morphology. Shallots can be spring planted and this might reduce its bolting habit, though it may also compromise its yield as well. A percentage of shallots will bolt, particularly when stressed by cold. Scapes of bolting plants should be cut to direct the plants energy into bulbing. These are splendid and used like green onions. Shallot yields vary widely per variety and season. Large bulbs will produce a greater number of small shallots; small bulbs will produce fewer larger shallots. Shallots need a bit more space than does garlic. You can use the same row width giving them a few more inches between shallots bulbs or in raised beds on 9” centers. It is harvested when the tops have dried down and cure as you would garlic. Shallots are $14 per half pound, $18 per pound, except French Grey which is $20/lb.
French Grey Shallots are a distinct species, different from all other shallots; in fact, they are classified not as A. cepa but A. oschaninii. In France they are considered “true shallots” in that they absolutely will not bolt and are highly sought after. It has thick, rough skin that is nearly impossible to clean (we don’t bother) but the flesh has fine purple rings and its flavor is exquisite. Fresh from harvest it excels raw in salads but as it ages, pungency and acridity intensify and light sautéing brings out its outstanding flavor. French Grey will not yield as heavily as other shallots and it has shorter dormancy. It matures a little earlier as well.
Blossom (aka Pink Seed Blum): large salad shallot with tan skin, pink flesh and a mild sweet flavor. Productive and long keeping.
French Winter Red: Squat shallots with dark copper skin on trifurcated bulbs. Cold hardy, they resist bolting and have excellent storage. These are well suited to sautéing, roasting and in curries.
Frog Leg: Plump like a frog’s legs, very productive, and light copper skinned with reddish flesh. Acrid when raw, sautéing brings out its complex flavor.
Golden: Dutch type, yellow skin on generally trifurcated bulbs with golden flesh, this is more pungent raw than other shallots with an upfront flavor that sweetens considerably when sautéed, thus well suited to caramelizing. Vigorous growers but when fall planted in cold climates these are prone to bolting, providing shallot scapes. Golden yields heavily and has excellent storage.
Long Bow Red: Another copper skinned shallot with light red flesh, these are more elongated than other varieties. They have an impressive complex flavor when sautéed and have moderate storage.
Prince de Bretagne: large reddish-copper skinned French shallot with cream-pink flesh, mellow flavored with a mild bite and very faint acridity which makes it an ideal salad shallot. It is productive and stores fairly well.