USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘onion’
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Wart treatment

Text

If you have a wart, cut an onion in half, rub it on your wart, and bury it in the backyard on a full moon.

 

Background

The informant learned this remedy from her mother and said that it was a very common one that she fully believed in when she was a kid. She said that not only did all of her friends know about this trick, but her husband who grew up on the other side of the country knew of a very similar remedy growing up. She believed it when she was much younger and practiced it frequently as she struggled with warts, but as she got older, she realized that it didn’t actually do anything

 

Context

The informant is a woman in her mid forties who grew up in the small town of Garner, Iowa (population: 2,000 as of 2018). She attended public school and grew up in a very rural area where she worked on the farm that her parents owned.

 

Thoughts

Warts are certainly unsightly and could even be embarrassing for a young child. Children can be mean and a child may be teased for having something that made them stand out in a negative way like a wart. Warts are also something that happen for seemingly no reason at all and are uncontrollable. Freezing off warts is possible, but the informant may not have had access to a doctor who provided this service being from such a small town. Because of all of these reasons, it makes sense that the informant practiced this remedy even though there seemed to be no scientific reasoning behind it. It gave her a feeling of control over this fairly uncontrollable blemish.

 

Humor

A Tale of Two Onions

Form of Folklore:  Humor

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised primarily in Glendale, California; he only left the United States for a two year period (from age fourteen to fifteen) to live in London, England.  Most of his knowledge of folklore is from his mother (of Irish decent), his father (of Persian-Armenian decent), and media such as the internet and television.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of another informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item:    So this is a story about… about love really, that you’ll wanna hear. It’s a story about these two onions; a man onion and a woman onion who’ve just come out of college and they’re ready to take on the world and see all that it has to offer and they meet and fall in love, they start dating you know and it’s all going extremely well and… one day after they’ve been dating a few months, they decide…they’re gonna do it, they’re gonna take the plunge, their gonna tie the knot and get married.  So they have all their family over and a beautiful ceremony and it’s the perfect day these two… onions could have imagined.  And they have a fantastic honeymoon laid out for them, they make love for the first time and it’s beautiful and magical experience.  And uh something happens that night… and nine months later a little bundle of joy… a little baby cocktail onion… is born.  And the parents are of course ecstatic… but like all parents they’re completely unprepared for the strain that this puts on their relationship.  And the financial trouble is the worst; the mother, she gotta take on a part time job ta earn more money and the father’s gotta take on more shifts down at the docks, where he works…. And unfortunately the little baby onion isn’t as well looked after as he might be.  And he’s got his parents spunk and… zeal for life so this… rambunctious little thing… one day he… wanders out of the house, rolls into the street, gets flattened by a truck.  He gets rushed to the hospital.  A team of surgeons fight all night to save his life.  The mother onion, she’s gotta be sedated, she’s just out of it, she can’t even handle the stress.  The father onion is rolling up and down outside the emergency room wearing a groove in the ghastly hospital carpet that they have there.  Finally, towards dawn, after hours of worrying, the surgeon bursts through the doors… he’s a radish… and teas his surgical mask from his face and whips the sweat away, stands panting next to the emergency room door.  The father onion rolls up to him earnestly “What?  What’s going on with my son?  What? Tell me!”  And the surgeon says, “well…. he’ll live….. but he’s gonna be a vegetable for the rest of his life.

Informant Comments:  The informant has never been able to tell this joke with out laughing at least part of the way.  The response he usually gets from those who hear this joke is anger or frustration in the form of curse words; the informant loves to see this response.  He believes the story of the struggles of the two onions is more humorous than the actual punch line.  The purpose of the joke is to have the listener go through the different life altering events of two vegetables and their child only to find out that the child is going to be a vegetable after his accident (which he clearly already is).

Analysis:  Unlike most jokes, the punch line of this joke is not what makes it funny.  From personal experience, I can say that hearing the joke a second time (while knowing the punch line) makes the joke much more humorous.  This is mainly because the listener can appreciate the irony of the ending throughout the entire telling of the tale of the two onions and their son.  The joke makes the listener accept the idea that the onions of the story are like people and thus have lives similar to human’s.  In the end, when the cocktail onion is deemed a vegetable, as in brain death, the listeners are torn from the originally accepted personification of the onions and into reality, where onions are vegetables no matter what.  This joke can annoy many listeners who wanted to go along with the fictitious world where the onions behave like humans; particularly, when it was all done for a weak punch line.

Foodways
general

Recipe – General European

The informant learned the following recipe for potato soup from her mother:

The informant briefly summarizes the recipe: “It was just a few, um, ingredients: potatoes and milk and cream, and salt and pepper, and onions, and usually it was in a crockpot, uh, but it made a nice, simple, creamy tom—potato soup . . . a simple potato soup that you’d make for the big family. Um, I’m sure it had some of her European background to it, uh, as well. But just simple.” Her expanded account of the process of making the soup is here: Potato Soup

She describes the recipe as “pretty much something you’d make quite often, but not for any particular occasion . . . just, you know.”

The informant likes the recipe but has given up on making it for the moment due to her frustration over the last time she tried to do so: “I haven’t—I haven’t had very much—the last time I tried to make it I screwed it up and something meant—went wrong with the milk, or either the milk was in there and got scalded, or, uh, it cooked too long with the onions or something, but I screwed it up last time and haven’t tried it since.”

Potatoes are known for being cheap, hearty, and, despite the informant’s difficulties, easy to cook, so it makes sense that the recipe would have been made for a large family, since large amounts of the ingredients could be thrown in a crockpot and left to simmer without effort until the milk and cream were added. The informant didn’t specify what part of Europe her family was from, but at least two cookbooks, The Frittata Affair (134) and Delicious Soup Recipes (36) contain similar recipes under the title “Irish Potato Soup,” which is not surprising given the status of potatoes as a staple in Irish cuisine. Both of those recipes, however, substitute butter for cream.

Sources:

Johnson, F Keith. Delicious Soup Recipes. New York: Ventures, 2010.

Pochini, Judy. The Frittata Affair: Adventures in Four-Star Dining at Home. Bloomington: AuthorHouse, 2007.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general

Folk Remedy – Sweden

“Whenever your cousins in Sweden get ear aches, they dice onions into small pieces, put pieces into a paper towel, and hold the towel against their ears until the pain goes away.”

My grandmother told me that when she first visited Sweden with my grandfather over fifteen years ago, she was very shocked to see onions used as a treatment for earaches.  She said that she thought it was incredibly strange, but she noticed that the people stopped complaining of ear pains after putting the onions against their ears.    She said that she asked my relatives why they used onions and they said that the juices from the onions helped sooth earache pains.  They said this remedy was common knowledge and the practice had been around for many years.  Even though my grandma learned about this remedy, though, she did not use onions when she would get earaches.  She said she would feel too silly to use the onions, and would rather take a pain reliever instead.

It seems like the popularity of medicinal folklore depends on the culture and context in which it is used.  In Sweden, the onion remedy is normal and socially accepted, but in America, people like my grandmother would consider onions a food, not a medical tool, and would feel uncomfortable using it to relieve ear aching.  Since my grandmother was raised in a society that believed in the power of Western medicine, she does not consider folk medicine to be a legitimate way to cure illnesses.

The last time my Swedish relatives came to visit, my little cousin had an earache that my aunt treated by using the onion remedy.  I thought it was strange, but I was fascinated by this form of remedy and wanted to try it on myself.  Unfortunately, I still have not had an earache and have been unable to test its legitimacy.  Even so, I feel that it is important to try natural remedies for illnesses before resorting to ingesting chemicals or other unnatural products.  Many cultures use folk medicine and I think that despite the advances made by science, modern society should not ignore what folk medicine has to offer.

[geolocation]