Shirley Hammond and multiplier onionsShirley Floyd Hammond has saved many of her parents’ things over the years – including her father’s pocketbook and watch, and a quilt her mother made from the remnants of her silk church dresses. Lucky for us, she also kept growing the wonderful multiplying onion that now bears her name. 

“I love to keep things that belonged to Mama and Daddy,” Shirley said.  

Shirley, who was born in 1938, remembers the onions growing in the gardens of her family homestead in Horry County, in southeast South Carolina. “Back then, they had them in a corner of their garden and left them there all year. They were always there. Now I think it’s better to take them up and plant them in the spring,” she said. 

Shirley’s parents always referred to them as “nest onions,” or as “Seven Sisters,” a nod to a Monache tribal story about the origin of the constellation Pleiades (Seven Sisters). According to the legend, six wives (and a daughter) swung to the sky rather than deal with the men’s complaints that their new-found love for pungent wild onions had ruined the men’s hunting. (It should be noted that the lonely, regretful men followed them to the sky, becoming the constellation Taurus.) Wild onions are also a culturally significant crop in many Native American communities. 

In 1963, Shirley married Jimmy Hammond, and they moved into a house he built for them on family land in Finklea, S.C., about 30 miles from Myrtle Beach. When her father came to help break ground for a garden (a tedious process that involved digging out lots of Bermuda grass!), of course he brought some of the small, white-skinned onions to plant. 

“I’ve always tried to have some of those onions,” Shirley said, cautioning that they can’t be planted alongside other onions because they will cross pollinate. “Once you get started with them, you don’t want them to get gone. I didn’t want to lose them.”

These onions are prolific; one bulb will typically produce 7 to 15 mild-tasting bulbs that are smaller than a golf ball.

“They taste good,” Shirley said. “I use them to cook with – they're not strong and they’re not sweet. They’re just mild.” 


Shirley Hammond multiplier onion


Big gardens were a way of life for Shirley and Jimmy and their children. 

“Jimmy used to plant acres of gardens just to give away. Acres of peas and butterbeans, corn and string beans,” Shirley said. “He planted all kinds of stuff, but never would let them have our onions!” 

In years when they had a bigger harvest than they needed, though, Shirley did sell the onions through the feed and seed stores in nearby Loris, S.C. and Tabor City, N.C. 

Stephanie Tetterton with Shirley Hammond onions
After Jimmy’s death in 2009, their daughter Stephanie Tetterton felt the pull to return to gardening. By then she had married and moved to Camden, S.C. Her mother sent some onions and later came to help her get the garden started. 

Declining health forced Shirley to step aside from growing an onion crop to sell, so Stephanie has stepped in to produce them at her “Quite Content Farm” in Camden. Stephanie hopes that her sister’s adult daughters will one day pick up the onion torch and continue the family tradition. We thank Stephanie for introducing us to this wonderful onion with an equally wonderful story! 


Photos courtesy of Stephanie Tetterton