Onions & the Cost of Fiction

imagesSome years ago, I came across a recipe for onion flowers, saw therein a metaphor for the cost of writing fiction, and wrote about that. I made a simplified onion flower today and thought I’d share the original piece with you.

To make an onion flower

To make an onion flower, peel the onion well, removing all its paper skin, but keep the root end whole. Then slice top to toe in parallel, but don’t cut through the root. Now give the whole a quarter turn and make your cuts again. The bulb will open like a flower. Set aside and go on to the next. Working thus with onions, most likely you will cry. There are tricks of course, we all know tricks: rinse your knife in water, hold a match between your teeth, squeeze a lemon on the board. But if you make this dish for many friends, get a towel to wipe your eyes and go on with your work. Push cloves of garlic and bits of butter deep inside each onion flower, then nest them in a buttered pan and sprinkle all with chopped pecans. Now bake at least an hour, basting all the time. It takes time and care to make an onion sweet.

When your guests arrive and see what you’ve prepared, they may exclaim, “Look at that, she made us onion flowers!” Most likely they won’t ask you if you cried. It’s enough to see them eat and ask for more, even those who don’t like onions. If once-filled plates wink back at you, your dinner’s a success.

Soon good talk rolls in waves around the table, stories hooked on stories. Perhaps you’ll tell your own, but not the new ones with their flavors all un-mixed and raw. It’s better you reach back. “A man I lived with seemed so good, but then he turned,” you may begin, “it happened in a day.” Now suddenly you taste again the bitter stench of burned-up dreams, like salt in tea, like soured milk you drank as if you had no choice. You wouldn’t now, but you did it then. Still, telling this won’t make you cry as the living it once did, in that old house when no trick helped, no match held tight between the teeth. For rinsed or not, a knife cuts deep and it has taken years to season pain and serve it up for guests. The others listen, nod, and then go on. Another tale, dessert and drinks, then someone says, “Let’s have a game.” When both teams break the rules to win, the captains laugh and call a tie. Now one by one your guests go home, all kissing you good-bye. They’ve had a lovely time.

But late that night, while stacking dishes up to wash, if you raise your fingers to your face, there’s no mistake: the onion smell remains – enough to make you cry again. For that smell can never leave the cook who keeps the root end whole and peels off all the paper skin.




Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Just life, Writing
2 comments on “Onions & the Cost of Fiction
  1. Iosifina says:

    Beautifully written description, Pamela. I love the recipe woven into the meaning.


  2. […] For a rumination on cooking onions and the creative process, see my blog: “Onions & the Cost of Fiction.” […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


Sunday, May 6, 2pm reading from latest work at Hexagon Brewing Company, Knoxville, TN.

Thursday, May 10, 6-8 pm presentation on research on the historical novel, Blount County Library, Maryville, TN.

When We Were Strangers, Italian translation, to be presented in Pescasseroli, Italy, August 2018.

Recent Review
“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts.

Join 2,018 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: