Sunday, February 5, 2012

French Onion Soup

(from Emma Levy)

My mother was born in Belgium.  In her family home she spoke Yiddish, but in the rest of her life she grew up speaking French.  We kids gave her a hard time for not speaking it to us as youngsters - instead we plodded through high school French like everyone else.  I do remember enjoying getting a reaction out of her by speaking French to her in the most broad New Zealand accent I could possibly muster.  She always shrieked "DON'T, you KNOW how to pronounce it properly!".  I did, but that wasn't nearly as much fun.

To keep up her French-speaking, Mum joined the Wellington branch of the "Alliance Francaise". Each month she popped off to meetings to do whatever they did, but the best times for us was the once a year they were held at our house.  In the afternoon Mum would start the French Onion Soup, and by the time the guests were due to arrive, the smell of the soup would have drifted through the house. A short time later, the house would be full of chatter in French.  We really wanted to be in the room but had to be satisfied with hanging around until the meeting started, and then maybe being allowed back in the room when they stopped for food.  The weirdest thing about it was having my French teacher there (oooooo a teacher IN MY HOUSE!!).

The memory of the sounds of French and the smell of the soup stays with my sister and I.  Nicki, bless her, asked Mum for the recipe, so Mum typed it out for her, and I have copied it out below exactly as she wrote it.  As you will see, it's from an "old book" so is not metric - a treat for our Northern Hemisphere followers!

French Onion Soup
Old book, so with ounces and pounds!!
The recipe starts with
The onions for an onion soup need a long, slow cooking in butter and oil, then a long, slow simmering in stock for them to develop the deep, rich flavour which characterises a perfect brew.

1 12 lb thinly sliced onions (I made a quiche and used 2kg onions, so would probably use that quantity for the soup)
1 1/2 oz butter
1 Tbsp oil
Cook onion slowly for 15 min in butter and oil, in a covered heavy bottomed pan.

1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar (helps to brown)
Uncover, raise heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar.  Cook for 30-40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown.

1 1/2 oz flour
Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 min.

3 1/2 pints boiling brown stock, beef bouillon, or 1 1/2 pints of boiling water and 1 1/2 pints of stock or bouillon
1/4 pint dry white wine or dry white vermouth
slat and pepper to tast
Away from heat, blend in the boiling water.  Add the wine, and season to taste.  Simmer partially covered for 30-40 min or more, skimming occasionally (or, don't bother!) & check the seasoning.

*Can be left aside uncovered until ready to serve (or covered in the fridge).  Then reheat to simmering point.

3 Tbsp cognac (well, you don't HAVE to)
rounds of hard toasted french bread
1/4 to 1/2 lb grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese
Just before serving, stir in the cognac.  Pour into a soup tureen or soup bowls over the rounds of bread, and pass the cheese separately.

(Please yourself as to whether you do this last lot - but some brandy or cognac is rather yummy)

Bon Appetit!


  1. A classic, and unusual to read the recipe in ounces, a French recipe out of a British book? Or did old French books used ounces?

  2. Sounds so yummy! And comforting! And decadent! LOL! Funny how something so simple as onions can be the base for one of the best soups!

  3. Funny - I remember speaking 'Franglais' with you, Emma!