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€.