Here at the Food on Fridays carnival, any post remotely related to food is welcome—though we love to try new dishes, your post doesn’t have to be a recipe.If you want, you could join the book club at TheHighCalling.org and post your responses to the essays in The Spirit of Food; because, you see, we’re pretty relaxed over here. Posts like that are as welcome as menus and recipes.When your Food on Fridays contribution is ready, just grab the broccoli button (the big one above or smaller option at the bottom) to paste at the top of your post. It ties us together visually.Then link your post using Linky Tools.
Food on Fridays with Ann
For the next few weeks, the Book Club at TheHighCalling.org (THC) is dipping into The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting toward God, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields.I’ll be joining that discussion, posting at least one response to the reading right here as part of Food on Fridays. It’s a way to write in community with you all regarding food in general and with my friends at THC, when I link up to book club on Mondays.If you’re curious to see how the THC book club works, you can visit our discussion of the first five essays at “What the Earth Gives,” which went live last Monday.This coming Monday, we’ll be discussing the next four essays:
- “The Heavenly Onion,” by Fr. Robert Farrar Capon (recipe: Scrap Soups and White Stock)
- “A Way of Loving,” by Stephen and Karen Baldwin (recipe: Basic Pasta)
- “Go Feed People,” by R. Gary LeBlanc (recipe: Jacmel Jambalaya)
- “And She Took Flour: Cooking Lessons from Supper of the Lamb,” by Denise Frame Harlan (recipes: I. City Slicker’s First Pot Pie; II. Advanced Real Pot Pie)
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.”
What elegant, fluid lines curve and meet at the top.
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.
“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.
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)
Photos by Ann Kroeker
April@The 21st Century Housewife says
Ann, what a beautiful piece you have written! I will never, ever look at an onion the same way again – or without thinking of Pentecost!!
Oh my. I didn’t think Capon’s essay could be better…but your pictures. Oh my.
I’m going to go meet my onion…
Ann! I’m just going to start calling you Awesome Ann. Because I just keep saying it over and over.
I love, love, love this! You have included all the parts from the essay that really stayed with me, like the “nested set of fingers within fingers.” That was my favorite.
You are so. much. fun. Better company than an onion. And that’s saying something.
David Rupert says
I have never – ever – heard or seen an onion so lovingly described. “Russian church spires?” Great post
What a great post! I love onions. Now I love them even more!
Anne…..What a delightful post! I’ll never look at the onion the same way again….love your humor and your photography! 🙂
This practically brought me to tears. 😉
Way cool, Ann. This ROCKED! I’m so delighted that you did this. I read the essay just last night, and thought to myself: I should try that. This has enriched my reading of the essay. How I thank you!
Hazel I. Moon says
I enjoyed your photos and comments on the Onion. Amazing how Capon has you take and examine the onion bit by bit. We like onions, and sorry they do not agree with you, but this was masterfully done, just to look and see that God said, Onions are GOOD.
Cheryl Smith says
Who knew? You and Capon make onions, peeling and cutting them, look so elegant. Great job capturing this assignment in photos. Love the transparent skins and the shapely tongues of fire.
Sam Van Eman says
Thanks for the interesting tour, Ann. Love the tumescent point.
Larry Hehn says
What an amazing journey! I had never stopped to consider an onion before. I don’t ever recall cutting one that way before, from top to bottom. It makes me wonder how much other beauty I’ve been missing in what I might usually consider ordinary. I really appreciate the photos that bring this all to life. Thanks very much, Ann!
I usually just try to get my onions chopped up as quickly as possible to avoid burning and tears! Your post has me wanting to take a closer look next time!
Thanks so much for hosting. And Happy New Year!
Charity Singleton says
I agree with the others. I was mesmerized by Capon’s essay. But I couldn’t always picture what he was saying. This, well, let’s just say that I will forever be considering the onion as I seek to look closely at all manner of things.
And, Oh! I just planted some lettuce today. Those seeds are percolating in some new soil and fresh water next to my front, south-facing window. Germination: 7-10 days. Lettuce: 40 days! So, on February 17, should I bring over a salad? 🙂
Bradley J. Moore says
I love this! The art of paying close attention.
I am reading a book which describes the onion as “the queen of the kitchen.” My wife and I absolutely agreed with this, knowing the aroma and domination that accompanies her arrival and presence as we begin to cook.
And garlic, then, would surely be the King…
Margie Haack says
Gorgeous. The art of seeing, really. In one sense nothing, when seen through unhurried eyes, is ordinary and yet this glory – found in such a common thing. Thank you, Ann.
Ann – this is simply delightful. I confess that I have not given the onion its due. You have opened new vistas. It is a good thing to take the time to really look and appreciate.