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Onion soup worth crying over

By Staff | Oct 30, 2009

Have you listened to the sounds of autumn lately? Just the other day, I heard the soft honk of geese traveling in their traditional V formations as they journey south. As I strolled by Ellery Park, I enjoyed the chatter of the trees as they released their bundles of leaves. Autumn, without a doubt, is my favorite time of year. This year we have been cheated from the many rich autumn tones we often enjoy. Our early freeze robbed us of sun drenched cottonwood leaves. However, underground was unfolding bulbs of joy.garden onions!

We recently received some beautiful, yellow garden onions. With a blink of an eye, I was transforming them into lovely French onion soup. To me, soups have always represented a form of enchanting power. You take a few inexpensive ingredients and with the touch of your hand and heat, there is a magical transformation. It is true that a cup of soup can be the perfect beginning for a several course dinner, but today I want to share with you a soup that is a meal in itself.

Since I was raised in a home where onions were used often, they quickly became friends of my taste palette. My grandfather, Walter Repnow, thought a meal without onions was like a day without sunshine. This is perhaps one of the secrets that allowed him to live to be 101. I remember once when I had a terrible cold his advice was: go home and make yourself some onion soup! In my own little world of private medical remedies, I truly feel there is a link between onions and good health. When I feel a cold coming on, I make onion soup. I invite the onions to hop on and join the fight to keep me well! Now, please don’t go telling the FDA that I have discovered onions chase away a cold! I certainly don’t have time to have them standing by my kitchen door while I am making French Onion soup.

Several years ago while skiing at Whitefish, Montana with Norman and the late LaVerne LaPole, I was introduced to some wonderful French Onion Soup at the Alpinglow Restaurant on Big Mountain. My wife, Jan, and Norman ordered complete meals while LaVerne and I ordered simply irresistible French Onion Soup. The soup arrived and upon the first sips we both agreed that the chefs had given proper nurture to this meal in itself. LaVerne and I also felt no guilt in ordering the extra rich Crme Brulee for dessert since our meal was low on calories! This started my love with French Onion Soup and the desire to learn to make it well. For weeks after this trip, I made countless kettles of it. Finally, Jan just had to let me know, she was not a French Onion soup lover. I am a firm believer in that fact that you can’t change other people, only your reaction to them. No matter how tempting my French Onion Soup, Jan could and would leave it alone! I have learned in 22 years of marriage that relationships are always in flux and this can be a really good thing! For example, I now only make French Onion Soup when Jan is away, and to my delight I enjoy the entire kettle!

Classic French Onion Soup begins with beef stock. If you are interested in making French Onion soup, this is a wonderful way to start. I began here myself. Today, however, I plan to share with you a version which incorporates beef and chicken stock. You could use vegetable stock as well.

The secret to wonderful French Onion Soup is to realize that onions need to be caramelized. This is easy to do. You simply slice the onions you wish to use and layer them in a pan. Sprinkle them with a touch of salt and dash of olive oil. Over medium heat simmer for 30 minutes until they become clear. Do not stir them. Add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar as well as one tablespoon of sugar. Raw onions have a pungent-flavored flesh composed of thin, close layers. As they cook down, they release their natural sugars and provide a sweet flavor. You may also allow the onions to brown to a deep brown. This happens when the heat is high and liquid is reduced. Watch carefully so that they brown and not burn.

I have also caramelized onions in the oven. This works wonderfully and takes about 2 hours at 350 degrees. When I select to do this method, I not only sprinkle them with oil and salt, I add other spices such as thyme. If you do not use all of these onions, please know that caramelized onions freeze very well for future use.

I have made French Onion Soup with every onion I can get my hands on. Vidalia and Walla Walla onions produce a sweeter or mild soup. To me, yellow onions tend to soften nicely when cooked. White Onions seems to stay a bit crisper when cook. Currently, I prefer to use yellow onions for the best soup. I have blended white and yellow onions and this can be very pleasing as well. There are many onions varieties, varying in color, shape and intensity of taste. I say give them all a try!

Naturally making French Onion Soup involves a lot of peeling. This can cause all cooks to shed a few tears. I have found that by refrigerating onions before peeling makes for fewer tears. You can also peel onions underwater. This is best done when the Rugby Swimming Pool is open! I once knew a neighbor who placed a wooden match stick behind each ear while peeling onions. She was also a great lover of hair spray. Luckily the matches, her hair spray, and the heat of her range never did a jig together! I share with you now my tried, tasted, and revised French Onion Soup Recipe.

Edie Wurgler shared with me that when she had French Onion Soup in Tallahassee instead of bread it was served with a Dutch rusk which had been slightly grilled.

Repnow is a Rugby resident.

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