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Onion Johnnies are alive & well

Posted 06/02/2013 Comment image 0 + add comment

I met Gael on a quiet street in Bristol. I had turned the corner to visit a cash machine when I was distracted by softly spoken words of "fresh produce from France sir". Intrigued, I stopped for a chat with a young man wearing a beret.

It didn't take me long to identify him as an Onion Johnny and to also find out that his father had been one for many years, selling produce in the south of the UK. Gael's English was very good, which was surprising since this was his first trip to the UK and so his first as an OJ - I'm not sure if this is politically correct but it works for me. Yesterday he told me he had been somewhere else in the UK which started with the letter 'Y' and he had sold out of all his onions and garlic. I tried to work out where he had been and I attempted to identify the town as Yeovil or Yate, but it was neither of these, but he did say that it was unpronounceable. I'm still none the wiser but the only conclusion I could come up with was that it was somewhere in Wales.

He was surprised at how many people were out and about so early on a Saturday morning, commenting that in his home town of Quimper it is usually quieter in the morning. I suspect it's a slower pace of life with people still enjoying a warm croissant and coffee, rather than doing jobs as I was.

Gael had come over from France, crossing by ferry to Plymouth, for a few weeks to sell his produce in England, as Onion Johnnies have done for many years. His onions, garlic and shallots all looked larger and fresher than produce I saw the next day in my supermarket. In fact the garlic was huge, twice the size of what I normally buy in the UK. And not any old garlic, this is pink garlic he explained. The onions were pink too. Apparently they are a touch sweeter than ours. He was keen to tell me that they had all been carefully hand tied. Naturally I had to buy some, but I haven't tried them yet.

It was great to see the tradition alive and well and that a young man was following in his father's footsteps. So, I say 'bon chance' to Gael and other OJs selling their onions and garlic. Look out for one on a street corner near you.

Mike Bevens

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