When she was good she was very, very good but when she was bad she was horrid….

In the comparatively short time that we have lived in this little hamlet there have been significant changes. During my previous life, as an urban dweller, these changes would have gone unnoticed. In those times I had no interest in my neighbours’ activities as they had little or no effect on my life. Friends were one thing but neighbours were quite another, as proximity was no reason for association. The microcosm in which we now live has altered this view and I now notice each and every change and feel richer or poorer because of them. Our mortality seems more evident in this underpopulated environment as the parting of one soul is very apparent. A neighbouring farmer died early last year and I feel his absence. Un roussepéteur is a word that I learnt on account of him and it translates loosely as an endlessly grumpy man, a state that my wife believes I may easily achieve in later years, if not earlier. Equivocal he may have been but he knew about living in the countryside and, in between our disagreements, he taught me many things amongst which was a respect for his various home brewed eaux de vie that would have performed equally well as defoliants. To state that they were an acquired taste would be an oxymoron as all taste was anaesthetised with the first drop that fell onto the unprepared papillae of the ambushed tongue. But this sage certainly knew his onions. The rows of drying onions, shallots and garlic in an open sided makeshift structure were, for me, a feature of winter months. The structure and the onions are now gone, but as the snow started to fall my mind’s eye looked back and uncontrollable tears welled up. Soon I was sobbing helplessly, as the onions in my hands released their insidious lacrymogenes,  which apparent shameless display of emotion might easily be mistaken for a display of sorrow for a friend that has gone before, rather than being subject to one of trials and tribulations of the culinary obstacle race known as soupe à l’oignon. The bad so often outweighs the good, which probably accounts for the good being so good as illustrated by the rhyme “When she was good, she was very good, but when she was bad she was horrid”. With onion soup the problem lies with individual feelings about “good” and “horrid”.The haters of stringy cheese vie with the haters of submerged toast. There are blonde versions that are loved and deep, dark versions that are revered as the only genuine soupe à l’oignon. For me the treatment of the onions is the key element. As Fergus Henderson says ” This time we want them to achieve a soft, sweet brownness – no burning”. Once the consommé, beef bouillon or stock is added to such onions the job is done. The final debate is whether to use a raft or a submarine as the cheese carrier.This post is based on a excerpt of my book “Simply Fed” that is available as an e book for iPad or iPhone at the insane price of 5.49€. 

About Food,Photography & France

Photographer and film maker living in France. After a long career in London, my wife and I have settled in the Vendee, where we run residential digital photography courses with a strong gastronomic flavour.
This entry was posted in Cheese, Cooking, Digital photography, Eau de vie, Fergus Henderson, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, onions, photography course, Recipes, Soup, soupe a l'oignon, Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to When she was good she was very, very good but when she was bad she was horrid….

  1. Mad Dog says:

    I’d be very tempted to use an aircraft carrier – though you might not get it into the bowl!
    Those older French country people have a huge amount of knowledge that needs conserving, including including the art of being a roussepéteur – I’m working on that art too 😉

  2. Oh wow that first picture makes me want anything onions. That soup looks fantastic. We’re in the burbs, so we don’t notice our neighbors too much. But one of them owns a towing company so when the car won’t start we do call their company, in case they’re watching! (Insurance covers it so might as well help their business.)

    • We do miss the convenience of companies that will help with cars etc, but it appears that farmers are extremely capable of nearly any mechanical piece of magic – without the price tag. I’ll make them an apple tart or onion soup in payment.

  3. ChgoJohn says:

    That soup of yours sounds delicious, Roger. It matters little to me whether I find a submarine or carrier in my bowl, just so long as it’s laden with cheese, I’m fine. Mine is a city neighborhood caught in a time warp. People spend time in their yards talking across fences, even sharing food and drink over them. It’s really rare to have this in so large a city and I consider myself very fortunate.

  4. I can relate so much to this post on so many levels. As an ex London dweller who barely knew her neighbours to a hamlet “cortijera” whose every movement is noticed by her neighbours…so different, not better or worse. And as for that amazing word, I aspire (and am seriously working on being) to be a roussepéteur(e). I´ll go for a semi submerged raft of toasted bread with cheese please!

  5. Great picture of the sliced rare onions in the pot! I’ve got to work on my composition

  6. argone says:

    I think I love everything onion : pie, tart, soup …
    the latest being very useful in case of hangover … ^ ^

  7. John Harvey says:

    I made this soup last weekend, carefully following the guidance in your book. It was delicious. Our guests, soup enthusiasts apparently, we’re full of praise. Thanks for the help.

  8. That gooey cheese…that’s the stuff of dreams…

  9. joshuafagans says:

    Onion soup is one of the greats. Now if the rain would just come back so I could make some ;).

  10. joshuafagans says:

    So cool that your book is available as an ebook. Will definitely have to check it out!

  11. andylmoore says:

    Onion soup, the stuff of dreams.

  12. spree says:

    I really love that first photo, Roger! What gorgeous onioniness! And the recipe sounds fantastic!.

  13. I love a good, gently-caramelized-onion-loaded, stringy cheese drowned onion soup. The big surprise for me was that after always using beef stock I switched to either entirely chicken or combined beef-chicken stock and liked it so much more! Since that time, when I’ve made homemade beef stock I almost always add a little chicken skulduggery to the pot and it seems to bring a subtle, complex depth that my beef stocks lacked before. Not a scientific discovery, surely, but one that seems to improve my ‘stock’ with my dining companions anyway!

  14. ceciliag says:

    My Mother used to say that to me all the time, When you are good you are very very good and when you are bad you are horrid, it began with a girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead, me with a head full of curls!! Ah well, Onions I love, superfoods and so forth! and that shot of the onions drying is so old and so new, as we all try to get back to the old. So beautiful. Did that make sense? c

  15. kiwikar says:

    “There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead.
    And when she was good, she was very very good, and when she was bad she was horrid:”
    Reminded me of a song that I used to love when I was 9. Beautiful photos, too. Thank you for sharing.

  16. ....RaeDi says:

    Beautiful pictures and words… taking the time to notice, taking the time to listen… I’ll have mine just about anyway… I love onion soup!

  17. thomas peck says:

    ‘Roussepeteur’. Great word (how do you do an accent on a mac?). Smacks of Victor Hugo and Flaubert put together. I know this is my destiny! Love the post.

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