Onions Make Excellent Paperweights. Sort Of.

Editor's Note: This Bob's Little Acre is from 2013. It turned up this morning in my Facebook Memories, and I thought I'd post it here because it's cold and flu season, and because I was just discussing the toxic-cut-onion myth this weekend with someone I later attempted to poison with one. (He lived.)

There is nothing like an onion for a paperweight.

I mean that in the Lewis Carroll sense: There are lots of things better. Just about anything that’s not round, in point of fact. The onion on my desk takes a nosedive every time I pick up the phone, while the one on the bedroom nightstand –

No, the one in the bedroom is not a paperweight. Actually, the paperweight function is ancillary; the onion on the nightstand is there for the same reason as the one in the bath and the one teetering atop the stack of National Geographics in the living room. They are hard at work, protecting me from sickness of any kind.


OK. So the onion theory doesn’t work.

In fact, it’s an indefensible piece of crap I read on Facebook. It went like this:

A doctor arriving in a village ravaged by epidemic found everybody there sick or dead except for the occupants of one cottage, where the whole family was yodeling with health.

“How do you do it?” the amazed medical man asked the rosy-cheeked farmwife.

“Why, sir,” replied she. “I simply place an unpeeled onion in each room of our miserable hovel, and it keeps us all in the pink of health even as the ground shakes from neighbor after neighbor keeling over in death.”

The article then goes on to detail how, if a person has pneumonia, you may save him by putting a sliced onion at his bedside. In the morning the onion will be blighted and black but your patient will be beating his chest with the joy of breathing free.

It was at this point – while you are probably saying, “What indefensible crap!” – that I began going from room to room distributing onions from my little basket like the Easter Bunny on drugs. If there’s one thing I believe in, it’s onions.

Once I was being driven around outer Atlanta by a Minion of Evil I’d met through some job training we’d taken together. All I knew about her was that she was the one who was always sitting under the NO FOOD OR DRINK IN COMPUTER ROOM sign eating lunch from a Wendy’s bag.

Now I was in her car and she was negotiating I-285 while telling me about her love life. She was dating a divorcee who took her to nice restaurants where he ordered everything a la carte. She said that so often and so proudly that I wondered if she knew what it meant, which is of course that the item comes by itself instead of as part of a dinner. So I said, “Do things taste better a la carte?” And she said, like I was stupid, “They cost more.”

So the guy was spewing money on her but he had one disadvantage: weekend visitation with his children. The Minion worked hard during the week and didn’t like wasting Saturdays on somebody else’s kids. It was such a drag that sometimes she wished she hadn’t bothered breaking up his marriage –


The Minion slammed on the brakes. She hadn’t been paying attention but we were on an exit ramp and traffic had stopped dead. Her sudden braking avoided a collision with the car in front of us, and the car behind also managed, just, not to hit us. But the cars behind it that had been following behind the Minion trustfully went BANG BANG BANG as they piled up one after another.

“Whew! Glad that wasn’t me,” said the Minion, and drove on without another backward glance.

She took us to a sub shop where she parked in the handicapped space. “They don’t tow you on the weekends,” she explained, and in case you are wondering what any of this has to do with today’s subject, when the Minion ordered her sub she said:


See? It’s like vampires and garlic, though the Minion explained coyly it was because she had a date. Apparently onions cramped her love goddess style. That was ironic to me because my own sole claim to love goddesshood is I cook, and almost all my recipes start out, “Take an onion.”

Look out! Here comes one now.


Take six onions, coarsely chop and sauté in butter or olive over medium heat for at least 40 minutes, until caramelized and greatly reduced. Generously dose with sherry to prevent sticking. Then add two quarts broth (beef is traditional, but lately I’ve been using a homemade vegetable stock), add more wine and simmer another half hour or so. Eat as is or melt cheese in it for additional calories.

But back to the Facebook story: After I’d put onions in every room, I returned to the computer and read the rest: Onions perform their medical miracles by sucking up all the germs in the air, which means you should never eat one that has been cut open any length of time; even refrigerated and tightly wrapped, leftover onions are deadly poison.

Right! If that were true, I’d be dead enough times to be a zombie invasion apocalypse all by myself. But it was presented as corollary to the pneumonia story, implying you couldn’t believe one without the other. It made me remember, sourly, an earnest young man I heard once explaining why you couldn’t believes in angels and not in demons.


I can’t tell you how many colds I’ve fought off with that onion soup! And medicinal function aside, just about any dish that starts with frying an onion is going to end up love-goddess-level good.

So I left those onions in situ. It’s true they make miserable paperweights but what harm do they do?

Anyway, a girl’s got to believe in something.

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