The elegance of onions


What I have enjoyed most about the past year and a bit since stepping away from full-time teaching has been the freedom it’s given me to read, and, through reading, to challenge and transform my seeing of the world around me.  This is the wonder of reading (well–of reading the right books, as C.S. Lewis might say).  I call it a wonder because to outward appearances, nothing substantial has changed.  My eyes and the matter they perceive remain the same, but my imagination–that faculty for interpreting what the senses perceive–has been awakened, expanded, refined (it’s hard to hit on the right word) to better comprehend the wonders before it.

Rather than list all of the authors and books that have so affected me (and continue to), let me introduce you to one whose influence has extended to transform my view of meal preparation from a chore of peeling and chopping to (quite frequently) an opportunity to appreciate the artwork that we eat.  In Robert F. Capon’s book, The Supper of the Lamb, he takes readers on a tour of culinary wonders.  His first chapter sets the tone by urging readers to devote an hour to the art of appreciating an onion.  Of the skin, he writes:

Look now at the fall of stripped and flaked skin before you. It is dry.  It is, all things considered, one of the driest things in the world. Not dusty dry like potatoes, smoothly and thinly dry, suggesting not accidental desiccation, not the withering due to age or external circumstance, but a fresh and essential dryness.  Dryness as an achievement, not as a failure. Elegant dryness. Deliberate dryness. More than that, onion paper is, like the onion itself, directional, vectored, ribbed. […] Best of all, though, it is of two colors: the outside, a brownish yellow of not particular brightness; but the inside a soft, burnished, coppery gold, ribbed–especially near the upper end–with an exquisiteness only hinted at on the outside. Accordingly, when you have removed all the paper, turn the fragments inside-up on the board. They are elegant company.

onion skin 2

From there Capon continues to contemplate the rest of the onion with a similar regard to detail. Since reading, there have been few times when, upon peeling an onion, I have not followed his injunction to “turn the fragments inside-up” on the counter.

onion skin 1

They are elegant company indeed.

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