Cover Image: The Core of an Onion

The Core of an Onion

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Member Reviews

The Core of an Onion is a very well written and engaging monograph on the culinary history of onions with recipes collected and curated by Mark Kurlansky. Released 7th Nov 2023 by Bloomsbury, it's 240 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

This is a foodie's delight: an erudite, accessible, delicious, nuanced ode to the onion, and the myriad uses to which it suits itself. The book is split into two main parts: a history and botany of the onion (and family Liliaceae), followed by a generous selection of recipes featuring onions.

There are numerous forays along the way. The author writes quite engagingly with quips and history which are both interesting and meticulously researched. From appearances in literature to traditional cuisines the world over, he talks about onions (and manages to make it quite interesting).

The recipe section is arranged thematically: soup, sauces, boiled roased braised & stuffed, caramelized & glazed, fried, eggs & onions, eggs puddings custards & cakes (!!), tarts & pies, bloody onions (recipes utilizing blood as an ingredient), pickled, bread, and sandwiches.

Recipes are written out longhand, with background stories and in a chatty/personal style. More or less as if a relative were relaying the method of making a family recipe without writing down a recipe. Most recipe have a more or less exact list of ingredients (measurements given in imperial (American) units)... followed by a general method of preparation.

This book's primary audience will be foodies who are interested in culinary history and the sociological aspects of the ingredients we use to feed ourselves; and this is an excellent and exceptionally thorough deep dive.

The author/publisher have included a solid bibliography and cross referenced index. The bibliography resources are probably worth the price of admission alone, and will give the eager reader many hours of further background reading.

Five stars. Excellent choice for public library acquisition, home reference, and gift giving to food enthusiasts.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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I received an arc of this title from NetGalley for an honest review. Who knew one could write a whole book about onions? I learned a few new things about them, but, still, I wouldn't say I like the taste when they are raw.

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Mark Kurlansky, master of the micro-history, returns with a shorter work focused on the onion. The Core of an Onion details the plants origins, development and usages across regions and cultures, both historic and current.

Arranged in two sections, Kurlansky clearly loves the onion as much as the people depicted in this book. Part one The World According to Onions is a non chronological history of the plant, describing its discovery, human development gastronomical uses. Part two, How to Eat an Onion discusses 12 different food uses from soups and sauces to sides, deserts, flavor enhancement or breads and sandwiches.

Great for foodies, but not as in-depth as other micro-histories. Would also appeal to fans of Bloomsbury's Object Lesson series.

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Mark Kurlanksky takes a deep dive into the humble onion in this next microhistory. Interesting tidbits about the ubiquity of onions throughout all cultures and landscapes are followed by onion-based recipes.

However, the recipes are presented anecdotally, so the flow is awkward: not quite a cookbook but alas, not very readable either. The first half of the book doesn't read well either, as the majority of the history is presented chopping, no pun intended. I'd recommend many of Kurlansky's books to new readers but this one only to his fans. It's me, hi, I'm the fan. I love his books, but only like this one.

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Foodies love to read about – what else? – food. They are generally interested in ingredients that make their food taste good, so one book that foodies will enjoy is The Core of an Onion: Peeling the Rarest Common Food—Featuring More Than 100 Historical Recipes by New York Times bestselling author, Mark Kurlansky.

The first chapters of this book focus on what an onion is (the bulb of a lily), and the history of onions. The information is interesting and informative. Readers won’t look at onions the same way from this time on. There are a few black and white photos in the historical parts of the book.

The recipes are presented in several different ways: some in the prose out of old cookbooks, and some with the ingredients listed first followed by instructions. Some are written in metric, and others written in US measurements; nothing appears to be consistent. One gets the feeling that the book isn’t intended to cook from, but is mostly just a textbook on onions. There are, however, some recipes that are tempting and different, and this cook will most likely try some of them.

All told, this is not a cookbook for everyone. There is not one color photograph, and you have to search for recipes hidden in the prose. The prose is well-written, and foodies who want more information than they really need will want to curl up in a corner and read all about them.

Special thanks to NetGalley for supplying a review copy of this book.

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The Core of an onion is an interesting read. It takes you through the history, myths and thoughts of the times of one of our most enduring food staples. Although it is a bit wordy at times (I expected more recipes and less works history) I honestly learned quite a bit and was fascinated by the different types of dishes that were made using different kinds of onions throughout both history and regions around the world. Interesting read if you want to learn more about the history of onions.

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Mark Kurlansky has written a wonderful ode to the onion. He takes us layer and layer of its history it’s value in our cooking.Really enjoyed the interesting fun read.#netgalley #bloomsbury

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This was an interesting little book! The first part is a history of people cultivating and eating onions and the last half or so was a little cook book, of sorts. It was charming reading though, not just a list of ingredients and instructions like most modern cook books use.
I love onions and think they make most savory dishes better so it was fun to see how their use has evolved through the last few centuries of history.

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To use a food metaphor, this felt like a word salad about onions. It starts off with several quotes from plays, poems, etc to onions without any connection. There were lots of interesting facts about onions thrown in. My favorite was how coffee, onions, and sugar were considered a cold remedy. Hopefully your nose is stuffed because that sounds horrible if you could smell/taste it! But there was a lot of bouncing around without any natural progression to the course of the book. And then it finished up with a bunch of recipes without much discussion about their place in society, the people connected to them, etc. I would have preferred fewer recipes and more background. Overall, lots of interesting information but it felt a lot like a rough draft.

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Although the range of topics Mark Kurlansky covers in his writing is pretty broad, he built his reputation on his ability to turn a common object into something special. For this book Kurlansky picked an onion. The book consists of two parts. The first, called "The world according to onions" was the most interesting. It uncovered many facts about history of an onion as a plant and a food item. Who knew that onions belong to the flower species, but once onions develop flowers, you can't eat them. About this contest between beauty and utility, Kurlansky says, “You have to choose where the onion puts in effort, the flower or the bulb. It can’t do both well.” Unexpectedly, onions sometimes played a large part not only in people's diets, but also in the entire countries' social and political lives. The book is full of curious details both history buffs and gardeners will enjoy tremendously. The second part of the book will speak to the cooks and food lovers. In it, Kurlansky presents thorough investigation of how the onions have been eaten over the centuries. Many old recipes Kurlansky shares in his book will fire up cooking enthusiasts. Additionally, tips on how to grow, buy and store onions and how to make them shine in your cooking repertoire come in handy. I am sure, for many readers of this book, their trips to the market now will have an added purpose of finding many onions' varieties Kurlansky mentioned in his book. Two more attributes of this book make it memorable: wonderful cover drawings made by the author and as always, his writing style. People who like MFK Fisher's writing should pick up this book.

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I love a micro history and food writing so this book brings the best of both worlds. It was really well written and I’ll absolutely go back and read other books by the same author. Last year Hachette had a great micro history of the tomato and now Bloomsbury follows up with one on the onion. This book will make all food readers really happy and will make a great stocking stuffer for the holidays. Happy reading!

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I love learning a lot about one specific thing and how it deals with history and culture and food, and this book is PERFECT for that. I LOVED Salt, and I knew I would love this. Was it super interesting and exciting to read this many pages about onions? You betcha! Mark Kurlansky is an excellent writer and keeps you engaged the whole time.

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Who knew a history of onions could be so interesting? I definitely have to read more by Mark Kurlansky because you can feel how passionate he is through his writing and I need that in my life. There’s history, recipes, tall tales and small ones—all about onions! Absolutely fascinating, a great read, especially if you love learning new/odd things.

Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Mark Kurlansky does it again! I loved Cod, Salt, and Milk, and Onion takes its place among his celebrated works of microhistory.

If you’ve ever secretly marveled at the utility of this versatile vegetable or declared it the bedrock of all savory cuisine, you’ll enjoy this romp through the humble onion’s journey through time. The story is interwoven with historical recipes that speak to the importance of its flavor in so many culture’s experiences.

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*This book was received as an advanced reviewer's copy from NetGalley.

There's nothing like a good micro-history. Taking an innocuous object and exploring it in depth. And this one was especially layered (yes, I realize that joke is way over done, too bad). The tale of the onion, ubiquitous in cooking, delicious, able to make you cry with a mere slice.

Kurlansky delves into the allium with a history of its uses, common farming practices, and the general population that eats them (hint, almost everyone). From the different varieties (and lost varieties), to the other domesticated variations this bulb can contain, he doesn't leave much unknown. I can't say there was a ton of new stuff in here that I hadn't read in other food books, but I did like it consolidated for this particular food item. That was the first half of the book anyway.

The second explored recipes. This section I had a little more trouble with, just because I really don't care for reading recipes in narrative format. Some people do, and vintage cookbooks are perfect for those people. I am not one of them. I just find it tedious and I loose interest really quickly. But I won't fault the book for my own foibles in appreciating this format. Even so, it was nice to see how much hasn't changed about the onion and its uses in cooking (and some of the random ways it used to be used).

If you love onions (or micro-histories), this isn't one to miss!

Review by M. Reynard 2023

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Another Kurlansky publication, another informative joy of a read. Between the historical background, the science, the surprising abundance of recipes, and more, this book provides more on it than one would imagine was even possible given the singular topic, all without wearing out its welcome - or at least so was the case with this reader. I found the information contained within these pages to be as wonderfully varied and layered as its subject matter.

Fans of Mark Kurlansky’s work will no doubt devour this quickly. And those who have yet to pick up one of his works but still enjoy a good microhistory will have an entertainingly educational time as they learn about one of the most ubiquitous vegetables.

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Mark Kurlansky hits another home-run. He is an Energizer Bunny -- he keeps on producing and producing. I can't get enough! He is a master historian focusing from a seed kernel his stories branch across an amazing timeline.

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Synopsis (from Netgalley, the provider of the book for me to review.)
From the New York Times- bestselling author of Cod and Salt, a delectable look at the cultural, historical, and gastronomical layers of one of the world's most beloved culinary staples - featuring original illustrations and recipes from around the world.

As Julia Child once said, “It is hard to imagine a civilization without onions.”

Historically, she's been right-and not just in the kitchen. Uniquely flourishing in just about every climate and culture around the world, onions have provided the essential basis not only for sautés, stews, and sauces, but for medicines, metaphors, and folklore. Abundantly commonplace yet extraordinarily indispensable, the onion is Kurlansky's most flavorful infatuation yet as he sets out to explore how and why the crop reigns from Italy to India and everywhere in between.

Featuring historical images and his own pen-and-ink drawings, Kurlansky begins with the science behind the only sulfuric acid-spewing plant, then digs through the twenty varieties of onion and the cultures built around them. Among the first domesticated and cultivated crops, onions were seen by the ancient Egyptians as a symbol of eternity, the Greeks as an agent of strength, and the Chinese as a supplement for intelligence. Entering the kitchen, Kurlansky celebrates the raw, roasted, creamed, marinated, and pickled. Including a recipe section featuring more than 100 dishes from around the world, The Core of an Onion shares the secrets to celebrated Parisian chef Alain Senderens’ onion soup eaten to cure late-night drunkenness; Hemingway's raw onion and peanut butter sandwich; and the Gibson, a debonair gin martini garnished with a pickled onion.

Just as the scent of sautéed onions will lure anyone to the kitchen, The Core of an Onion is sure to draw readers into their savoury stories at first taste.

Mark Kurlansky’s books are always a wonderful mix of history and cooking – I love onions. LOVE THEM – I put them in everything and have memories of my one sister pulling every piece out of the meals my mother made…she is still a picky eater who lives on hot dogs, ham, KD, pork chops and 5 large ice capps a day from Timmy's. (Is it any wonder that she cannot get her blood sugar below 20 even with insulin?)

I often call interesting or twisty movies and books ONIONS as you peel off a layer and find something new: this book is like this as well: there are stories, histories, anecdotes and some darn great recipes....and now I want a bowl of French Onion soup and a Gibson for lunch … not gonna happen as it's too darn hot.

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