Onion Engineering

At my mother's assisted living home, the staff helped my mom and other residents put in a small garden in the spring. Onions, featured in the planting, are now being enjoyed by all. Mom says they are past that first delightful small green onion stage; the bulbs are getting bigger, and the tops thicker and stiffer. Which takes her back to childhood, and some creative onion engineering.


Image originally uploaded on 3/8/08 by Matter=Energy

Mom says when she was young, and the onions got to this point, they would cut off a top to use as a bubble blower. They would cut off the top end of the green stalk, and make slits on the bottom end so the it could be curled and feathered out. Then they would use this with soapy water mixed up at home to blow bubbles. "Of course," she said, "you made sure you didn't bite into it! But that's how it was back then. We made all our toys." Mom says her dad showed them how to do this.

Any of you out there have a similar onion stalk bubble blower story from your elders? I'd love to know. I wish I had some onions growing in my backyard right now. I would love to try this out. If you are growing onions, why not give it a test and let me know how it goes? I'd be particularly interested in how the modifications to the bottom end of the tube affect bubble production.

Just remember not to bite into it!

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Oh cool! Someone else does know about it!

Maybe it's an eastern European thing? My grandparents were from the area that is now Slovakia.

Possible. We did a lot of things with vegetables - potato guns, onion-skin flutes, watermelon-rind lockets....

Here in Finland we used dandelion stalks to blow soap bubbles. And cow parsley to build water guns. Rowan berries were good bullets for blow pipes. The pipes were made of that tree that grows on rooftops, a.k.a. TV antenna.

By Lassi Hippeläinen (not verified) on 05 Jul 2008 #permalink

I have no connection to eastern europe but we used dandelion stems as bubble wands as kids, and now my kids use onion stems too so maybe it's just a kid thing.

Didn't know about curling out the end. We'll try that. Maple seeds as jewelry. Burdock as weapons (good thing none of us had curly hair, getting burdock out of straight hair was bad enough). Sunflower and corn stalks as blowguns.

We made necklaces from honeysuckle, tiaras from clover, and bracelets from Equisetum (horsetail). Speargrass yields tiny, sticky weapons, but we also used bamboo, chinaberry (tallow tree), and sweetgum. We painted or drew faces on acorns to make little faerie-dolls.

We used flat grasses (the wide kind) to make whistles. The obligatory bows-and-arrows out of tree saplings. I remember trying to make corn-husk dolls but not getting very far (I hadn't quite mastered the art of tying knots yet). I also remember hollowing out acorns and using them as buckets for the little people I imagined lived in my sand pile. (Those little people had a great life, let me tell you. Thick, lush moss lawns, a bubbling spring (provided by the hose buried in the sand), a swimming pool, and a nice cool house...boy, did I wish I lived there!)

I also discovered rather young that old, gnarly tree roots make great Matchbox car racing tracks.

My dad taught me how to make willow whistles. They can only be made in the spring when the sap is running. In fact, him making me a willow whistle behind the laundromat while we were waiting for laundry is one of my earliest memories...given that it had to be early spring, I would have been two years old.

As a young child I had fun picking dandilions and shredding the stems and putting them into water to make rings to put around my finger (the long shreds of stem curl up in water because one side absorbs more water than the other).