Terrific french onion soup — recalling days at sea

The Salty Days… remembering “Tinker”

If you’ve been following this blog for a few years, you know I have a special affinity for the lesser-known nooks and crannies of this country, notably in the West and South, and many places in between. But here and there throughout my timeline, I’ve had my “salty times,” perking up at a smoky sou’wester and wanting a taste of the ocean foam. Some of it’s genetic and habitual: my forebears were sea people from Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, and they served marine interests in many ways, including annual publication of The Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book (launched in 1875 by my great-great grandfather Capt. George Eldridge), and the patenting of the spherical marine compass by my father’s father, Wilfrid O. White. Some of it was them, but some of it was just me.


The family enterprise, since 1875… still going strong.




I became seriously salty when I spotted Tinker for sale – a beautiful 22′ Muscongus Bay Sloop (close cousin of a Friendship sloop – same idea but centerboarded instead of keeled). She was built here in midcoast Maine in 1934 as a pleasure craft, double-planked with spruce (maybe cedar?) on oak ribs, heavily powered with an oversized Volvo Penta, rigged for twin headsails over her heavy bowsprit. Simply enough, she was smart-looking, hefty and sea-kindly, with a near-neutral helm. Snail-sluggish in a race, but an easy single-hander, with lines faring into the cockpit.

Tinker and I, c. 1974, in Vineyard Sound. Comfy in and out…

That first spring, when she was cradled in a yard in Duxbury, Mass., I slaved weekend after weekend on scraping and sanding, painting and varnishing, polishing and refurbishing, all the usual, until the yard owner came to me and said, “Why not just launch? She’s ready!” Right, good idea. Into the harbor she went, down to the Cape Cod Canal and through to Buzzard’s Bay and Martha’s Vineyard. Perfect shakedown.

But after three summers of adventures to the Elizabeth Islands and Nantucket and elsewhere, it became clear that my timing was off. I had two wee ones back on land, and at age 30 a growing suspicion that I should do more to be with them. Plus (and what wooden boat owners dread most), I could almost hear the bilge pump running at three in the morning, despite her being moored two hundred yards away. Too many hard-driving beam reaches, I thought; maybe her garboards were opening up around her centerboard trunk. Bilge pumps drain juice, batteries die, pumps fail and boats sink.

True enough for Tinker. A survey agreed – replace the garboards. And so Tinker went up for sale and quickly found a buyer. As always, with me buying and selling boats, I lost money, but it never seemed to matter. Tinker was good beyond her looks, her heavy scantlings, her smoothness in a fresh breeze and choppy water. Bits and pieces of her linger easily on. Good times, good boat — but better for another owner.

If anyone knows where she is now – if anywhere – I’d love to know.

It was time to leave the water and head for parts inland. And back to the stove…


Jaw-Droppingly Good French Onion Soup

Oh man! (my pic)

This recipe is for a soup for four, so you’ll need four ovenware crocks. It’s rich and dark and a bit salty, and works as a meal in itself – with some bread on the side, and maybe fruit and cheese. Your call.

You’ll need:
  • 4-5 yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 qts. beef stock or broth
  • 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
  • 2-3 oz. dry sherry
Now do these things:
  • 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.”

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

Note that you can use a hearty swiss or Jarlsberg instead of gruyere, but it won’t have the same “mouth feel” or pungent flavor.



Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.