It all began with a French soldier on a beautiful Mediterranean island over a century ago. Sweet onion seeds, which originated in Italy, had been transplanted to the Mediterranean island of Corsica. It was there that a French soldier, Peter Pieri, experienced love at first bite when he savored the onion’s surprisingly mild, sweet taste and juicy flesh. He made a decision then that still resonates with sweet onion aficionados today — he brought the seed stock with him to his new home in the Walla Walla Valley.
Italian immigrant gardeners comprised the bulk of Walla Walla’s gardening industry back then, and several were Pieri’s neighbors. Pieri planted the seeds in mid-summer, hoping to sell them as green onions in the fall. Unfortunately for him at the time — but very fortunately for generations of subsequent onion fanciers — he wasn’t able to sell the whole crop, and the remaining onions were left in the field all winter. Much to his surprise, they survived the cold, and set seed the following summer.
The promise that these winter-hardy sweet onions held was evident to Pieri and the area's other market gardeners. They saved the seeds and began a selective breeding process. By hand-picking only the best onions from each year’s crop, over time they developed the larger, rounder and sweeter beauty that has become known as the Walla Walla River Sweet Onion. These onions were first harvested in the Walla Walla Valley in 1900. Today’s generation of growers maintains this century old passion — not just raising sweet onions but cultivating a tradition.
Selective breeding is one of two factors that make Walla Wallas so incredibly sweet. The other? The Walla Walla Valley has the ideal soil and perfect climate to grow the world’s best sweet onion!