An Everlasting Meal: The Onion Tale

An Everlasting Meal

It’s not often that I am as charmed and captivated by a book as I was by Tamar Adler’s Everlasting Meal. Her discourse on “economy and grace” in the kitchen is all about making the most ingenious use of the ingredients you buy, and giving new life to your scraps and leftovers — an approach that resonated with me deeply for it is exactly the way I aspire to cook.

Her beautiful, haunting voice, her wise words, and her sound advice come together into a timeless book you want to read slowly, savoring each chapter and pausing every few pages to try and commit to memory* a gold nugget of an idea that you particularly love.

I requested the publisher’s permission to share with you one of the many passages that delighted me. This one is found at the end of chapter thirteen, “How to Find Fortune:”

“I have heard of one lucky man for whom undervalued vegetables turned to solid gold. Here is the story as I was told it:

A farmer who grew acres and acres of onions became weary of trying to sell his onions at home, so he filled a carriage with bags of them and struck out to seek his fortune. After much journeying he reached a country where onions were unknown, and when he demonstrated their wonders to the royal court, the king rewarded the farmer by filling all of his onion bags with gold.

The farmer returned home and told his story. So his neighbor, a garlic farmer, took the same journey, to the same land.

The court was again bewitched, this time by garlic, and the night after a great feast, where garlic soups got the pulses quickened, and garlic chicken drove people to ecstasy, the garlic farmer was rewarded; his garlic sacks filled to brimming with treasure. The man drove straight back to his native land, aching to see his riches. When he finally arrived, he opened his bulging bags to find them full of the kingdom’s most prized possession: onions.”**

Isn’t it the best story, one you want to remember always and tell your children? Does it make you think of any other food-related parable that you could share with us?

* I read it on my Kindle and found myself in a highlighting frenzy.

** Excerpted from An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace Copyright © 2011 by Tamar Adler. Excerpted with permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  • Karen

    I felt the same way when I read the book this summer. Just loved it, and I think it has transformed the way I cook and eat. Thanks for sharing!

  • I loved this book, too. I savored every single page, and am recommending it to anyone, even if they don’t like to cook. It’s just a beautiful book!

  • Peter

    What a lovely book, right? Such a tribute to MFK Fisher.

  • Caroline

    Just checked a sample on my kindle and liked it so much that I bought it right away…can’t wait to read it!

  • I’ve heard so many good things about this book, I need to pick it up! But I’m in the middle of so many books right now, and I know once I get it I will want to drop all of those, so I’m waiting. It’s difficult!

    Thanks for sharing that passage! I’m not sure how disappointed I’d actually be if I was paid in onions :).

  • Je ne suis pas étonnée que tu aies tant aimé ce livre, je l’ai adoré quand je l’ai lu il y a quelques mois et je sais combien de goûts communs nous avons en cuisine et en lectures autour de la cuisine :)
    J’ai été frustrée par la lecture sur Kindle, de mon côté, ce livre est vraiment un de ceux que j’aimerais avoir en version papier sur ma table de chevet pour y revenir et y revenir et y revenir les soirs où j’ai envie de lire quelques pages inspirantes et gaies et bien écrites avant de m’endormir, par exemple… Cet univers que l’auteur partage avec ses lecteurs mérite le papier, je trouve (mais bon, je suis du siècle dernier, hein? :) )

  • haha…good story. You can never have to many onions.

  • Jackie

    I loved reading this book, but the index drives me crazy! I would have a bit of a memory of an enticing recipe and there was no way to find it in the index.

    In general, the secret to a cook book I use is one that is a joy to read, has wonderful recipes and a way to go back and find those recipes through the index.

  • I too love this book and the excerpt you chose is one of my favorites.

    I’ve been reading An Everlasting Meal before I go to bed, and I’m almost finished. Just last night, I read the chapter “How to Weather a Storm.” With Hurricane Sandy on its way through Boston, I channeled my inner Tamar Adler, raided my fridge and pantry, and made stew with vegetables that had seen better days.

  • nyginko

    “How to Weather A Storm”

    The storm spurred me on to use ingredients on my shelves that I’d neglected, such as a jar of sunflower seeds in their shells (these seeds are less perishable when contained in their shells.)
    I made a milk with these seeds as I recalled some of what a young mother with a sick infant and a homeopathic pediatrician told me many decades ago!
    This “milk” was a tasty treat in the same vein as freshly prepared almond milk, oat milk, et al.

  • I read this book a few months ago. FANTASTIC. I bought a few extra copies for gifts. It has changed many things about the way I approach food. I read it right before a 3-week Ayurvedic panchakarma cleanse, and Adler’s writing melded well with what I was learning.

  • Alex

    This story is plagiarized from a story originally written over 50 years ago in Hebrew by Biyalik.

    • The author is telling the story as it was told to her — she doesn’t claim to have invented it. As other commenters have pointed out, the arc of the story seems to be a folk’s tale common to various cultures. I am not familiar with Biyalik’s work, but it is possible that he himself didn’t invent it either, but simply retold it — brilliantly, I’m sure — as Tamar Adler does here.

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