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Walla Walla Sweet Onion is the sweetheart of July festival-goers

Though the crop came in later than normal in 2011, there were plenty of namesake onions at the 27th Annual Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival held July 16 and 17 in downtown Walla Walla, WA.

Kathryn Fry-Trommald, marketing director for the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee, said Aug. 3 that the two-day event was a great spotlight for the onion, which is not only the region’s most famous crop but is also the Washington State Vegetable.

“Attendance was very good, and we estimate we had about 5,000 attendees over the weekend,” Ms. Fry-Trommald said.

Numbers were calculated both by how many festival brochures were handed out and by information provided by several dozen vendors who took part in the event.

Ms. Fry-Trommald said the upbeat attitude displayed by vendors was a “very positive sign” in light of the nation’s stuttering economy.

“Many who I spoke with said their sales this year were better than in 2010, and everyone said they look forward to coming back next year,” she added.

Two city blocks in the heart of downtown were filled with festival activities, including a beer and wine garden, chef demonstrations, arts and crafts, kids’ activities, live music, festival food and a variety of competitions that included a 5K and 10K fun run to benefit the Lincoln Health Center for local schools.

“The weather was in the 80s, and that also helped,” she said of attendance and participation in the contests.

Three local chefs were on hand to demonstrate the versatility of Walla Walla Sweets, preparing a variety of dishes using the onions.

“This year our onions are big and sweet, with very low pyruvic acid,” Ms. Fry-Trommald said. “They are just delicious.”

Erik Johnson, executive sous chef at the Marcus Whitman Hotel in Walla Walla, and Mandi Konen, pastry chef at the hotel, conducted the demos on Saturday, July 16, using the onions in an array of dishes that included Caramelized Onion and Cheddar Biscuits and Sweet Onion Molasses Jam.

On Sunday, Chantelle Martuscelli, manager and chef at Cugini Italian Import Market in Walla Walla, prepared Chilled Cucumber Soup and Anchovy & Olive Bruschetta, both using fresh, mild Walla Walla Sweets.

Ms. Fry-Trommald said she and the Onion Ring, a group of 10 volunteers that meets monthly throughout the year to plan the festival, will get together in August to discuss the 2011 event and plan for next year’s festival.