First, on June 22, 1852, Emmett Lee Dickinson (Emily Dickinson's third cousin, twice removed -- at her request) invented a delicious onion soup (a recipe for which the French later took credit).
Prior to this date onions were known as "devil spheres," and they were used sparingly if it all. People would wear garlands of onions to ward off common maladies such as sluggishness, biliousness, and the lure of unattractive suitors. However, Dickinson's soup became so popular that by 1857, June 22 was named "Day of the Onion."
A few years later, on June 22 1863, Emily Dickinson's sister Lavinia invented onion rings. Originally called "devil loops," a New York Times food editor dubbed them "onion ringlets," and the name was later shortened to onion rings. In a matter of just a few months, the popularity of Lavinia's concoction eclipsed that of Emmett's soup recipe, and by 1881 the "Day of the Onion" was changed to "National Onion Ring Day."
Pictured at the right: A letter from Emily Dickinson to Emmett Lee Dickinson about Lavinia's new culinary delight (click the image to enlarge). The letter reads as follows:
A new recipe is always a chance, but a fried concoction by Lavinia -- which she calls devil loops -- resulted charmingly. They are as delicious as they are mysterious, though, for she protects the recipe like a druggist's formula.
Before June 22 was changed to "National Onion Ring Day," Emmett Lee Dickinson wrote about the "Day of the Onion" in his now-classic poem "Some Days are better than the rest" (below on the left). We don't know if Dickinson's poem inspired Lavinia Dickinson to create onion rings, but the work did inspire Emily Dickinson to pen her poem with the same first line (below on the left).
By Emmett Lee Dickinson:
Some Days are better than the rest
In some distinction lie
Like when Day of the Onion comes
And you're obliged to cry
By Emily Dickinson:
Some Days retired from the rest
In soft distinction lie
The Day that a Companion came
Or was obliged to die