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Food on Fridays with Ann
In 2011, I read a chapter from The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting toward God, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields. In the piece by Fr. Robert Farrar Capon, entitled “The Heavenly Onion,” he curiously, meditatively, slices open and examines an onion. The following is a reprint of my own attempt to curiously and meditatively slice open an onion.
I decided to do more than read “The Heavenly Onion.” I decided to live it.
In this excerpt from The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon invites the reader to take an onion (he recommends a yellow onion, but I ended up with a white onion), a paring knife and a cutting board, and sit down at the kitchen table.
I was to acquaint myself with the onion.
Yes, it was just me and the onion; the onion and me. Together at the kitchen table.
An occasional child passed through.
“What are you doing with that onion?” one asked.
“I’m getting to know it,” I replied.
The child shrugged and moved on. My kids are used to seeing their mom undertake various experiments for the sake of books, blogs, or just basic curiosity.
So they left me alone to look at my onion as if I’d never seen an onion before. I was to meet it on its own terms—to abandon all of my preconceived notions of what an onion is.
First, I was to notice its two ends: the end where root filaments descended into the earth.
And the upper end, the part that pushes up, defying gravity, seeking light.
Contrary to my preconceived notions, Capon is quick to point out, an onion is not the simple sphere. It is linear, “a bloom of vectors thrusting upward from base to tip.”
With Capon’s encouragement, I’m trying to be generous toward the onion, devoting this kind of time to it; because you see, I’m not all that fond of onions. I can’t digest onions very well. I won’t elaborate, but let’s just say they disagree with me.
But Capon didn’t ask me to eat the onion.
He asked me to see it. Smell it. Examine it.
That, I’m willing to do.
Remove the skins carefully, he instructed. Just the skins. The main pieces come off easily.
The skin is thin, brittle and dry; yet, to borrow Capon’s description, elegant.
Well, except for the little bits that pull off stubbornly. Capon sees incredible beauty in them, but they look a little flimsy and scrappy to me.
I feel them: delicate, but smooth.
I’m still game. I want to see and learn, so I continue.
Next: the cut.
I got a chef’s knife for Christmas, so the cut is fun.
And look at what I’ve done.
He says, “You have opened the floodgates of being…Structurally, the onion is not a ball, but a nested set of fingers within fingers.”
Moisture glistens on the cut surface and drips at the base onto the cutting board. “You have cut open no inanimate thing,” Capon says, “but a living tumescent being…the pieces of its being in compression. To prove it, try to fit the two halves of the onion back together.”
“It cannot be done,” he continues. “The faces which began as two plane surfaces…are now mutually convex, and rock against each other.”
He’s right. I can’t push them flat together again. Released from its pressure chamber, the onion is swollen—expanded. There is no turning back.
Next I am to lift out, one by one, the layers.
I line them up, and just as Capon says they will, they look something like Russian church spires.
Or tongues of fire.
They seem firm and solid. If I tap the curve with the flat of my knife, it offers a hollow sound, “something between a tock and a tunk,” as Capon says. I am told to take one of these pieces and slice it into slivers.
Pressing and smooshing out the juice from one of the slivers, I see that the onion is, well, limp. Depleted. Empty. Finished.
“The flesh, so crisp and solid, turns out to have been an aqueous house of cards…the whole infolded nest of flames was a blaze of water.”
That is the onion, its shapely figure admired, sliced, emptied and better understood; perhaps even appreciated.
I have smelled it (still smell it, in fact, on my fingertips where I pressed liquid from the sliver with my nails). And I have seen that it is different from what I thought. It is more than I thought. I have paid attention, for the most part, and Capon has shown me that I can take more time to “look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are.”
It’s easy to look at an onion and say, “Oh, sure. I know what that is. It’s a round thing.” It takes attention to look at an onion and see it for what it is and, in some way, love it for what it is.
God saw the onion, along with all that He made, and it was very good.
Why don’t I take a closer look and see all that He made?
I have seen one real thing, made by the Creator alone.
And it was very good.
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Source: The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting toward God, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books. 2010. (pages 46–54)
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Post is reprinted from the archives.
Photos by Ann Kroeker. “Pin” these images in a way that links back to this particular page, giving proper credit.
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