Those who know me are far too well aware that Pride and Prejudice is not just a fun go-to novel or a Friday night popcorn and a movie thing for me…Elizabeth Bennet (to me) is the very image of intelligence and independent thinking. And Jane Austen herself holds a permanent spot in my own Fabulous People Hall of Fame.
For starters, Jane Austen spent about 16 years working on Pride and Prejudice. The time during which it was written was marked by not one, but several monumental events. The French Revolution was fought. Marie Antoinette was put to death. Napoleon came into power and subsequently conquered the majority of western Europe. England and Ireland combined to create the United Kingdom. British Parliament abolished the slave trade. King George III went mad and was replaced by the Prince Regent (of whom Jane was not a fan) who later became King George IV. Amid all of those world events, there were hushed murmurs, if not glimmers of anticipation, surrounding feminist causes in Europe. And there Jane sat, working tirelessly on the greatest novels of the time.
Not one of her novels ever had her name attached to them when they were published. It wasn’t until well after her death that the books would celebrate the brilliance behind her characters and social situations as being Austen’s creation. In the early 1800’s, women did not have the legal right to sign contracts. It was improper for a woman to seek any notoriety for her work as an author (although there came a time when the Prince Regent himself requested an audience with Jane, as he was quite impressed with her work).
As for Elizabeth Bennet, the main character in Pride and Prejudice, she may be the most beloved literary character of all time. Full of wit, an incomparable and fantastically sharp tongue, and an undying commitment to the idea of marrying for love rather than money, Elizabeth’s story draws to a close being “completely, perfectly, and incandescently happy” with her beloved Mr. Darcy at her side. The novel’s original and anonymous publication date was January 28, 1813.
Although Jane Austen was not a tremendously detailed author, we can surmise from our knowledge of the times that it is likely Brown Onion Soup was served in the Bennet household. Onions were plentiful, easy to grow, and quite inexpensive on a comparative level. “Carmelizing” the onions was a trick to bring out the most flavor in the onions, thereby requiring less beef broth in the recipe. Surely Elizabeth’s mother made the most of this when entertaining potential suitors for her daughters. When adding a rich, dark beer (see recipe below), the soup becomes fit for royalty. This particular recipe has been on the menu for over 35 years at Schuler’s Restaurant in Marshall, Michigan, and is the best onion soup I’ve tasted.
Schuler’s Swiss Onion Soup
8 oz. margarine
4 lbs. sliced white onions
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh garlic
1 tsp. celery seed
1 ½ Tbsp. ground sage
2 Tbsp. dry mustard
1 ½ cups of dry or cooking sherry
1 ½ cups of all-purpose flour
2 qt. chilled beef stock (also substitute use bouillon cubes)
Melt margarine in a 1 ½ – 2 gallon stockpot, add onions.
Cook onions on medium high heat stir in often till onions are a light golden brown.
Add garlic, celery seed, sage, dry mustard; reduce to medium low heat cook about 10 minutes.
Add sherry; cook until nearly all liquid is absorbed.
Add flour, stir in thoroughly.
Add cold stock, bring to boil stirring frequently.
Reduce heat and simmer about ½ hour.
Place soup in oven safe crocks or bowls, top with toasted croutons and completely cover the top with shredded Swiss and Parmesan cheese and bake in 400 degree oven till cheese is melted and bubbly.