Really Good French Onion Soup — Introducing Margaret and Henry

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French Onion Soup recipe below… but first, I thought I’d share this story with you.

My wife and I were having breakfast at a local diner one Sunday last fall when my ears perked up to a conversation coming from the next booth.

“What you got planned for the day, Margaret?”

“Well, Henry, I know it’s your day off, so I thought I’d get busy hauling up the skiff and dragging the motor up to the shop to winterize it, then go back to the skiff and flip her over onto those logs.”

“Oh, Margaret, that skiff’s heavy, I should help you with that –”

“Nothin’ doin’, Henry, I can manage just fine and I know you got to get ready for your poker game with the boys.”

“Well –”

“Then I’m going to bleed the brakes on the Chevy – Phyllis is headed over to help with that – and try to strap up that loose tailpipe, assuming I can get the right u-bolt, otherwise use hose clamps or baling wire. And now Therman Fogg needs help taking his engine down – you know that old Jeep he has –”

“I thought Therman was pretty handy with things like that –”

“Not as handy as he thinks, he’ll probably bust a motor mount so I should be there when he does it. Then we’ll get started honing out his cylinders and try to finish up tomorrow.”

EatInside“That’s a V-8, isn’t it?”

“Yuh, a 304, and we’re going to put a new four-barrel onto it.”

“Sounds like a pretty full day.”

“Well, I promised myself I’d deal with that pile of oak stovewood that’s been sitting out past the barn for two years, I thought I’d bring it all up to the woodshed, which has room for it.  And then –”

“That’s a cord and a half easy. I should help you with the wood.”

“No, Henry, you got that Patriots game with the boys, after poker. Nothin’ doin’ – and I should grab you some chips and beer for that, when I have a chance. Then, you probably remember, Sadie has her dance lesson and Joey has the school play rehearsal, so after I get them there I’m helping Phyllis frame up the last two walls of her cabin, assuming I can use your nail gun. Her chop saw probably needs a new blade, but we’ll do what we can. Remember where your big level went?”

“Front hall closet.”

“Good. What do you want for supper?”

“Well, we talked about grilling some rib-eyes –”

“I’ll need to grab some propane then and unplug the intake – it’s all gummed up from the time the whole thing fell in the lake.”

“Don’t remind me.”

At that point the waitress came to their booth and said,

“Pancakes all right, Margaret?”

“‘Fraid so.”

“Henry?”

“Just fine.”

When she left, Margaret continued, “If I got time, I want to take a gander at that stovepipe guywire on the roof – it looks a bit slack to me.”

“I’d feel better if you didn’t go up on that roof.”

“I’d feel better if that stovepipe doesn’t come crashing down, don’t you go worryin’ ’bout me.”

For the rest of breakfast they settled down to eat. I exchanged glances with my wife, and we got back to eating a good meal. When Henry and Margaret left the diner, there was plenty either one of us could have said, but we didn’t say a word.

It’s good to be in Maine.

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French Onion Soup is especially good after taking down a 304 V-8, or moving a pile of stovewood, and it’s very easy. What’s important here is to use Gruyere cheese as the topping – it’s a perfect match for the onion soup.

DSC_5328 copy(photo © Ned White)

Jaw-Droppingly Good French Onion Soup

You’ll need:

• 4-5 largish onions, chopped

• 2 qts. beef stock

• 1 packet onion soup mix (I know, it’s “cheating,” but a huge help!)

• dash cayenne pepper

• pepper

• sliced gruyere (Gruyere usually comes in small packages of just a few ounces; to be safe, get 2 packages for this recipe)

• 4 slices hearty, nutty bread, or French bread sliced thin

• 2 tbsps. butter

• dry sherry

4 ovenware soup crocks

In a large pot put onions, beef stock, and onion soup mix, and bring to a boil. Cook on low heat for about 45 – 60 mins., until onions are soft and the broth has reduced about a cup and darkened. At the end, add cayenne and pepper.

Taste the broth – it should be very rich and dark. If need be, add a little more onion soup mix.

While the soup is cooking, cut 4 discs from the four slices of bread, using a glass that’s about the same size as the soup crock opening.  In a frying pan melt the butter and put in the bread discs and fry them on both sides till well-browned, nearly burnt.

Pour the hot onion soup into the crocks, a little below the top.  Add a capful of sherry to each crock.  Put in the bread discs.  Top with a generous amount of sliced gruyere, and don’t worry if it spreads over the edge of the crock – that’s part of the “presentation.”

Heat at 400 for about 10 mins. or until the cheese is well melted, then finish off under the broiler to brown/crisp the cheese.  ☞ Handle with care – they’re hot!  Let cool a few minutes before serving.

It’s rich and filling enough to be a meal in itself, but you can add a side salad or a plate of crisp vegetables.

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Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is an author, photographer, crossword constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and an avid cook. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.