Hello and Welcome ! Here on our homestead, one of the most versatile things that we can is our French Onion Soup. It can be prepared (with bread and cheese on top as traditional French Onion Soup. It can serve as a Beef Stock for starting stews or in the roasting pan with a beef roast. And it also makes for a wonderful French Dip Au Jus. Really, the only limit is your imagination. What I can tell you is that it is really handy to have around for any number of dishes...
Step 1: Tips & Tricks From a Working Homestead
As a Working Homestead (meaning we raise the majority of our own food and strive for self sufficiency) this story starts in the garden. We have also worked for years with new homesteaders and gardeners via our Facebook page: Bumble Bee Junction. Since our goal is to educate, I am going to include some onion growing tips and tricks below. If you are not interested, simply skip to the next step now...
OK... If you are still here, Great !!!
*** One of the biggest problems we run across with new gardeners and onions are folks planting onion bulbs, and then believing they cannot grow large onions like they see in the store. In truth, their growing conditions and plant care might be perfect. The problem is that onions are a 2 year plant. The first year, they grow a large bulb in hopes of storing enough energy to survive the winter. These are what you see in the store. The second year, their primary focus is to grow a seed head and scatter their seeds to start the process over again. In doing so, they put the energy into the seed head, and produce only a small to medium bulb. This is what trips up new onion growers. When you plant an onion "Bulb" you are actually planting a second year onion that has already grown and formed the bulb you are planting. In order to grow onions like you see in the store, you either have to start from seed (usually indoors around Jan) or purchase the green bunches of onion starts (usually 40 to 60 in a bunch). These are what you see Tina planting in the pics above.
*** The only part of an onion that needs to be in the ground is the roots. When planting seeds, plant no deeper than 1/8th inch. And if you are planting green starts, then only pinch up enough dirt around them to keep them upright. If you want large onions, they need to be able to expand unrestricted. I wont advise you on how to plant bulbs in hopes you never will... LOL
*** Select the right onion for you. I am going to leave you to research this a little more on your own (for time and typing sake) but a good rule of thumb is that if you live in the north, you need a "Long Day" variety... In the south, a "Short Day" variety. And if you live in the middle, there is even an "Intermediate Day" type of onion. Most onions you see for sale will have one of these three designations listed on them.
*** Onions are heavy feeders. In the pics above, you'll see we prepared our onion beds with composted cow manure, and pelleted lime (not pictured). A good way for new growers is to dig a deep trench where you plan to plant. Put your fertilizer and lime down the bottom of the trench, then cover it with about 2" of soil. Then plant your onions shallow over the top of it. This will ensure that when the onions roots reach the fertilizer, they will be mature enough to use the fertilizer - and at a stage where they most need it to form the large bulbs you are trying to grow. There should be no need for additional feedings if done this way.
We hope this helps... Now off to the next step...
(If you need more help, find us on Facebook: Bumble Bee Junction)
Step 2: Prepping Your Onions
With a large number of onions to process, we cut the tops and roots off sometimes while still in the garden. We do hold back a pile of "pretty" tops to cut and dehydrate into chives. We then wash and skin the onions, placing them on large trays. Based on your amount harvested, this is where you'll want to start thinking about how much "Soup" (I'll just refer to it as this for now to save typing) you are wanting to make...
Step 3: Extra Onions / Storage
Since we grow far more onions than we require for "Soup" we chose to dehydrate the extras because they will keep longer this way (several years). Again, education is our goal, so if you would like to know how we do this, I'll put some notes below... Otherwise, skip to the next step now....
If you are still here... Awesome !
*** Follow the directions for your dehydrator to ensure the onions are fully dehydrated.
*** Then (straight from the dehydrator) place your dried onions into clean canning jars and into a 180 degree oven for 60 minutes...
*** When that 60 minutes is up, one at a time, remove the jars from the oven and immediately put a lid and ring on them tightly.
*** Set the jars on a towel and allow them to cool. You will hear them seal, just like canning. In fact, this process is sometimes referred to as dry oven canning.
Ok... Now on to the next step....
Step 4: Caramelizing Your Onions
Back to the "Soup"... LOL
Preparing your onions is fairly simple. Wash your onions, cut them in half, and then slice them into slices about 1/4" thick. Then, over medium heat (don't rush things) slowly brown your onions. This is called caramelizing, as the sugars are caramelized in the browning process. You'll want to get them as dark as you can without them falling apart. This can take some practice, but taking it slow really helps. You'll then want to set them aside in a large bowl for the time being...
Cooking Note: Caramelizing your onions (even on medium) takes advantages of higher heat (say 325 degrees) to bring out flavors in the onions than you can achieve by just putting them in the jar and canning them raw (boiling only achieves 212 degrees). This is part of where the "Soup" gets it's unique flavor...
Step 5: Preparing Your Beef Stock
***First let me apologize for the rather large quantities of things you are seeing. As a homestead, we are canning something we use year round all in one shot... You can adapt the recipe to your needs...***
Preparing the beef stock is fairly straight forward. Determine how many quarts of "Soup" you wish to make. In our case 60 quarts. We figure the onions as 20 percent of the "Soup". In this example (and its pretty close to reality) the onions would equal 12 quarts. So in our large pot, we need about 48 quarts of water. 48 + 12 = 60. If we have some left over, so be it... We put it in the fridge and use it first...
Next you'll want to chose a beef bullion. There are many kinds. Low sodium, Vegan friendly, No MSG, etc... The type we use (pictured) even has tiny bits of beef right in it... But any way you go, you'll want to use the directions on the bullion to make the soup TRIPLE strength. Yes, I said TRIPLE strength. You can always dilute it for other projects later, but French Onion soup - Beef Stock - and Au Jus all call for it at TRIPLE strength.
Next you will need Steak Sauce and Worcestershire Sauce. It helps to try to match the brand so you know they will compliment each other well. Taste you beef stock first. Then begin adding them in equal amounts (say 2 tbs of each). Taste again. There will come a point when you just know by the flavor that your "Soup" has changed from Beef Stock to French Onion soup. It is not hard to tell, trust me. Just add (in equal amounts) and taste till you get there.
Next, add some Thyme, garlic powder, and black pepper to taste. Don't over do it. They really aren't even necessary, but they are part of the traditional recipes.
Then just allow it to simmer on low for about 30 minutes.
Step 6: Getting Ready for Canning
While your "Soup" simmers, take advantage of the break to get ready for canning. Set out the number of clean jars you wish to can. Equally divide your caramelized onions between them. Then, because of the time involved in canning, we like to rest a lid on top of the jars so that nothing else (forbid something like a house fly find its way in there) can get into the jars while they wait....
Step 7: Canning Your French Onion Soup / Beef Stock / Au Jus
I am afraid this is where we step aside and leave the canning instructions to the experts. This isn't a dodge. We simply suggest you refer to your canning books / websites for the exact instructions on how to do this. We use the canning procedures for canning onions (or any other vegetable) - which involves use of a pressure canner. I am sorry, it really does feel like I am leaving you hang by not explaining it. I simply cannot be responsible for making anyone ill or take the chance that I might miss something in the process of explaining it. I hope you understand. There are many available resources for this step. And the picture is what your finished product will look like....
Step 8: Wrapping Things Up... Summary.
Thank you so much for spending your time with us. We hope you will find the information included helpful. As you can see, this recipe can be adapted easily from a single batch for dinner all the way up to batches large enough to last a family for a year... Here are a few tid-bits we wanted to include:
*** The onions we grow here in Tennessee are Yellow Granex onions. They are a cousin of the Sweet Vidalia onion grown in Georgia.
*** Onions will caramelize on medium heat. Be patient. Use butter, not oil.
*** It is normal for the onions to float to the top during canning.
*** We don't suggest adding salt above what is in the bullion, steak sauce, and worcestershire sauce.
*** Garlic powder can clump. Whisk it with some hot soup in a cup before adding.
OK Folks... As we said, we hope you enjoyed the recipe / information. We also hope you will consider supporting us in return. We are YouTube creators, which helps support our efforts here on our homestead: Bumble Bee Junction... You watching our videos, giving them a Thumbs Up, and leaving your comments on our videos is a real blessing to us. Subscribing just takes two mouse clicks. First, Click Here to go to our channel homepage. Second, just look for the red "Subscribe" button and click that. That's it... Then you will be notified any time we upload a new video. Our primary topics are: Cooking, Canning, Gardening, and Homesteading in general. We really hope you will consider subscribing. We really need your support...
Thank you for spending your time with us... We appreciate it !!!
Mark and Tina
Bumble Bee Junction (FB and YT)
A Disabled Veteran Owned East Tennessee Homestead