Onions in the Stew

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1956 Book Club edition

Onions in the Stew is the fourth in a series of humorous autobiographical books by Betty MacDonald about her life on Vashon Island with her second husband and daughters during the Second World War years. It was published in 1955 and a second edition in 1956.


The title comes from a quotation[1] by Charles Divine (1889-1950) in his poem "At the Lavender Lantern":[2]

"Some said it was Bohemia, this little haunt we knew
When hearts were high and fortunes low, and onions in the stew"[note 1]


The book covers the period from 1942 to 1954. It opens just after Pearl Harbor with divorced mother Betty and her two daughters, 12-year-old Anne and 11-year-old Joan, living in her mother's home and Betty working in a building contractor's office. She meets and marries Donald MacDonald and they start searching for a home; unable to find a suitable one in Seattle or the mainland suburbs as a result of wartime influx of population, they try the local islands and finally find a property on Vashon Island. The early part describes the problems of commuting from a home without a road. The children have the choice of the beach--if the tide is low--or walk to a neighbor's who has a road--to catch the school bus. The adults must follow a muddy trail to catch a ferry, usually in a rush. Their house was intended as a summer home, so it is cold in winter and their priorities change. "Creosote logs" on the beach are highly prized. Stormy weather brings a "bark tide" of firewood which must be quickly gathered. Various neighbours provide help, hindrance or confusion. At the same time, there are quite poetic pieces on some of the joys of getting food from the sea and land, and domestic scenes of the girls going through adolescence.


An adaptation was shown on TV in the series Robert Montgomery Presents on NBC on September 17, 1956.[3]



  1. ^ The poem is about a "snug cafe, half restaurant, half home" remembered by a soldier in the First World War. Bohemia here refers to a happy free place, the haunt of Bohemians rather than the country.


  1. ^ B. MacDonald (1955). Onions in the Stew. Hammond & Hammond. 
  2. ^ "At the Lavender Lantern". Grit (2365). May 19, 1940. p. 18. 
  3. ^ "Onions in the Stew". Internet Movie Database. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Davis, Delmer (1989). Mary Anne Schofield, ed. Cooking by the book: food in literature and culture: From Eggs to Stew: The Importance of Food in the Popular Narratives of Betty MacDonald. Popular Press. pp. 114–125. ISBN 0-87972-443-9. 

External links[edit]