Many of the elder Jobe's best friends at DuPont were from Cajun Country, including one whose mother gave the Jobes some onions that she got from her mother, who got it from her mother, who got it from her mother, and on back like that as far as anybody can remember. That first batch was planted in August of that year, and the family had fresh onions for their dressing during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
The Jobes have been growing those same multiplying onions ever since, selling them the last five years as Jobe Family Heirloom Onions, where some of their customers are reminded of the way onions used to taste and other, younger eaters can believe they have discovered something new.
Customers sometimes send along personal notes to Stanley and Jill along with their orders, like this one from Kirbyville: “Please send an order of your multiplier onions. My husband's family was Cajun and he has searched for a good green onion for years ...”
A couple in Mississippi wrote: “I grew up in Louisiana and had these in our family for years. As the old folks passed away, so did the onions. I am now in the 'old folk' category and would love to have these again.” Other letters of support and gratitude have come from Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and as far away as Illinois and Washington.
“To tell you the truth, I never thought about selling them, but I realized one day that I have good land and good soil and I needed to pay my taxes. So I thought, 'Hmmm,'" Stanley said. “I invested in a little bit of equipment. I'm having a special plow made now to handle these onions. It's designed for potatoes. It's always an adventure one year to the next. You never know what's going to work until you try it.”
The onions the Jobes grow are multiplier onions, perennials that reproduce from bulb. They are sometimes confused with Egyptian walking onions, which sets its bulbs in the soil, and with bunching onions, which normally have seeds. The Jobes' onions do not produce seeds and can't be started from seed.
Stanley and his wife, Jill, keep a few to eat and replant the rest to sell through the Jobe Garden website. They deliver some to wholesale customers but eschew on-farm sales and haven't had good luck selling them at farmers markets.
In every order he sends from Jobe Gardens, Stanley includes a pamphlet that outlines how to grow the onions, staring with leaving the package open after it arrives so the onions can be exposed to air until they are planted in August or September.
“When you are ready to plant the onions, separate the bulbs from the cluster, then prepare the soil well, ideally forming a raised bed about two or three inches high,” he advises. “Push them root end first into the soil until the top just disappears. The spacing of the bulbs in any direction should be six inches apart. As they mature, under average climate conditions, they should be watered once a week. ... Enjoy eating most of them in the fall, but leave enough to form new bulbs for the next season of growing.”
Jobe said the multipliers are forgiving of neglect, but they do have to be watered and weeded. Stanley suggests digging them in May, or perhaps June, depending on the garden zone, after the flower heads mature and the onions and blossoms start turning brown.
Again, there will be no seeds in the flower heads; the magic happens with the bulbs. He hangs the bulbs upside down in bunches to dry and then separates the bulbs from the stems and stores them until August or September when the whole seedless cycle begins anew.
“People tell me they don't want to mess with pulling them and drying them and taking care of them; they'll just leave them in the ground. You can do that, but the bulbs just keep getting smaller and smaller until they look like grass,” he says.
To paraphrase the Blue Bell slogan, the Jobes sell what onions they can and eat the rest. Growing up, Stanley enjoyed most of the onions during the holidays in November and December, but he points out that they are good any time of the year.
“In between times, we use them in a relish plate or mixed in with hamburger or egg plates,” he says. “They're always tasty.”
To order some Jobe Family Heirloom Onions or to learn more about them, visit the farm's website at www.jobegardens.com.