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What Southern Folks Eat: Julia’s kitchen wisdom

By Stephanie Hill-Frazier Guest Columnist

“Homemade soups fill the kitchen with a welcome air, and can be so full and natural and fresh…” Julia Child, from "Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom"

Much of the country is dealing with a winter storm as I write this. States that don’t normally lie under blankets of snow are buried today. It’s the perfect type of day to make soup.

French onion soup
"Julia's Kitchen Wisdom"

In Port St. Joe today the weather is chilly and lovely, especially compared to the frigid temperatures much of the country. That’s one of the wonderful things about Florida, and the reason many people from the north retire, or at least spend winters, in our beautiful home. My mother’s parents retired, though not from the north. They came to Gulf County from St. Pete in the early ’70s, not looking for the warmth, but looking for the seclusion, the beauty of the area, and the relatively low price of property; clearly, it was a different time. 

One of the many hobbies my grandfather took up during his retirement was cooking. He most frequently focused on learning the recipes of Julia Child. He made her boeuf bourguignon most frequently of all her recipes, closely followed by one other: French onion soup.

Granddaddy absolutely loved her onion soup recipe, and when he made it, we considered it a special occasion. He would invite us over for dinner on those mild winter nights at the beach when he made the hot, fragrant soup. It was perfect: dark, rich broth, tender, sweet onions, all topped with melted cheese and crisp bread croutons. He would serve it with a bottle of red wine, which I thought was beautiful and fancy, but wasn’t allowed to try, of course. 

Soup, whatever your own favorite kind, is the perfect comfort food. It warms the body and fills the kitchen with the most enticing fragrance. Soup is the thing that makes us feel better when we have a cold, and it helps to stretch the budget when the pantry is not so full.

When I was sick with cold or flu as a little girl, my dad or mom would open a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. The broth was comforting to my sore throat, and it was fun to pretend the noodles were worms. I remember calling it “worm soup” to make my daddy laugh. Even though now I make my chicken soup from scratch, I still love the savory scent and good taste as much as I used to.

Only the pure in heart can make a good soup, according to an old Jewish proverb. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know a sure way for anyone to make a good soup: open one of Julia Child’s cookbooks and do exactly as she says. Most recently I have been using a book that was published in 2000, called Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom. Among all the other simple recipes in that book is the gold standard recipe for French onion soup that Granddaddy used, and I thought I’d share it with you today so you can give it a try, too. 

It may just be the ideal food for winter.

French Onion Soup

By Julia Child

Ingredients

  • 5-6 cups thinly slice yellow onions
  • Olive Oil, 4 Tbs
  • 1/2 yellow onion, minced
  • French Bread, about 8 slices
  • Cognac, 2-3 tablespoons (optional)
  • Parmesan Cheese, 4 ounces
  • Swiss Cheese, about 12 ounces grated
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground sage
  • One bay leaf
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 48 ounces beef stock
  • 3 tablespoons plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Heat a heavy, oven-safe, stock pot over medium-low heat and add the cooking oil once the pot is hot. Melt the butter into the hot oil.
  2. Stir the sliced onions into the oil/butter mix, ensuring they are evenly coated. 
  3. Cover the stock pot and cook for around 20 minutes checking to make sure they aren’t burning. Onions should be clear and very tender once finished. 
  4. Turn up the heat to medium-high, and add the sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. Continue cooking while stirring until onions are thoroughly caramelized; they will be a golden brown.
  5. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in three tablespoons of flour. Cook 2-3 minutes until flour forms a thick paste (add more butter if needed).
  6. Stir in one cup of beef stock, and stir thoroughly for a couple seconds.
  7. Add the rest of the stock, wine, sage, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  8. Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Drizzle both sides of French bread slices with olive oil, and place on a baking sheet. Bake the bread for 15 minutes on each side.
  9. Taste soup and add salt and pepper if needed; remove the bay leaf.
  10. Add cognac, if using, and grate the 1/2 raw onion into the soup. Add a little bit of the Swiss cheese to the soup, saving most of it for the top. 
  11. Cover the soup mixture with the bread, forming a single layer bread top. Sprinkle the rest of the Swiss cheese over the top of the bread, forming a nice thick layer. Drizzle melted butter or oil over the cheese, and place the pot into the oven uncovered. Bake for around 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted. 
  12. Turn the broiler on and brown the cheese, being careful not to burn it. Don’t walk away from the oven!
  13. Remove pot from oven and let stand to cool a bit before serving. 

As Julia always said at the end of her cooking shows, bon appétit!

Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph.” She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home. She is married and has three sons who are substantially taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes atWhatSouthernFolksEat.com, and she’d love to hear about your own favorite recipes via email at Steph@whatsouthernfolkseat.com.