La Maison des Johnnies

Over the Easter weekend my girlfriend Emma and I took a pleasant trip to Roscoff (Brittany, France) by ferry from Plymouth. Once there, we took a look around the area and enjoyed the cuisine. One of the sights was a curious museum called the Maison des Johnnies et de L’oignion de Roscoff. The museum is a small collection of farm machinery and the simple house which used to belong to one of the Roscoff ‘Johnnies’. Emma kindly took some pictures of our visit.

Outside of La Masion des Johnnies

Now I always thought the archetypical Johnnies was a myth - you know a Frenchman in beret with his onions for sale on his bike… This somewhat prejudiced stereotype has certainly influenced our thinking in regards to the French. Some French Napoleonics even come with a string of onions on their backpacks. Well hold on to your hats - the stereotype is true, BUT only in England!

A typical bicycle laden with onions.

It all started after the Napoleonic Wars, when there was great poverty. An enterprising Breton travelled from Roscoff to Plymouth to sell his onions. The distinct Roscoff ‘rose pink’ onion became a big hit with the British and soon a roaring trade was done with the ‘French Onion Men’. In fact, it became a common sight to see a Roscoff onion seller all over the UK, wearing the traditional beret whilst on his bicycle and selling his onions. Thus the British public began to take on the image of the typical Frenchman selling onions while the Roscoff sellers did their part to form the entente cordiale.

Signpost at La Maison

We only found the museum by accident and arrived exactly in time for the lecture - in French. My foreign language skills are poor, particularly my French - reduced to even less by a bad night’s sleep on a rolling ferry. Even so we managed to get the drift of what was said and Emma kindly gave me a prod when I was in danger of falling asleep! No fault of the lecturer I may add…

Roscoff onions growing in the centre of Roscoff

They grow the onions to a special regimen, with seaweed as a fertiliser. They wait until the onions get to a certain size and then cut the roots and let them mature. This gives the Roscoff onion that distinct pink hue and excellent taste. So next time you set up your terrain for a game, just consider you are just as likely or more likey to see a French Onion Man in a Very British Civil War game than you are cycling around in occupied France (assuming the Germans haven’t requisitioned his bycycle!). Food for thought (but maybe not raw…)! 

Leave a Reply
Post your comment

Karwansaray Publishers