What’s Cookin’ – Famous-Barr French Onion Soup

As I was thumbing through one of my cookbooks this past weekend, I ran across a recipe that I had tucked away in it.

A mimeographed copy of a recipe for Famous-Barr French Onion Soup.  My kids have no idea what a mimeograph is (heck my spellchecker doesn’t either!), but this gives me an idea that I have had this recipe since the 70s.  This copy states that the recipe was published in our local newspaper on April 26 (year unknown).

Famous-Barr was a department store chain in St. Louis, Missouri, that, like many other department store chains in other cities, was absorbed by Macy’s.

Many women my age and a little older remember going to Famous-Barr and eating lunch in their restaurants as young girls.  This was back in the days when you dressed up to go shopping, and you often went on these outings with your mother.

My mother was different.  She grew up on a farm and did not shop at places like Famous-Barr.  Cityslickers and uppity women went to those type of stores.

But, I did not miss out on this experience.  I was often invited to go shopping with one of my girlfriends and her mother.  These excursions were very special to me and going out to lunch, well, that was something else!

My memories of eating at Famous-Barr was like many other girls, and it included two things – their famous French Onion Soup and the John White Burger.

Famous-Barr’s French Onion Soup is considered the standard in the area against which all others are compared.  It had a thick, rich tasting broth that you savored after pushing through a thick layer of crusty, browned Swiss cheese that was melted over thick slices of crusty French bread.

The John White Burger was covered in a thick, yellow, cheesy sauce and topped with crispy thin onion rings.  It was juicy and cheesy and oniony and, well, just so, so good.

Eating these two things at Famous-Barr is credited with expanding my ultra-picky childhood palate beyond peanut butter and jelly and Braunschweiger sandwiches.

So, when this very old and faded mimeographed recipe fell out of my cookbook, I decided to make a batch of French Onion Soup.  Since this recipe did not list a source, I Googled it, and the same recipe popped up on many other sites.

What was also interesting was that the chef who is credited with this recipe, Chef Manfred Zettl, was recently highlighted in an article titled, Soup’s On!, in the West End Word.  He lives in the Central West End neighborhood in the City of St. Louis.  He did include his recipe for French Onion Soup in this article, but it is slightly different from the one that I found on several other sites.

The original recipe makes a very large batch of soup, so I adjusted it to make about one quart or enough to feed 2 to 4 people.

Famous-Barr French Onion Soup ingredients.

Note: I used Vidalia onions.  The surprise ingredient for me was the paprika.

This recipe is not hard to make, but it does take some time.  After thinly slicing the onions (there were tears), it takes over 1½ hours for them to sauté on low (pictures of the onions at various steps along the way are shown).  After you add the spices and flour and stir for 10 minutes, you add the wine and broth.  This has to simmer on low for another 2 hours.  The result is a thick, rich broth.

Note on adding salt:  You add the salt at the VERY end for a reason.  The broth reduces significantly and if you had added the salt at the beginning, your soup would be too salty.  Taste and add the salt at the end.

To serve the soup you add the warmed broth to an oven-proof bowl, top with slices of French Bread and Swiss cheese and cook under a broiler set on high until browned and bubbly about 5 minutes.

Note:  My recipe said to refrigerate overnight.  I don’t know if this was intentional to the flavor or not.  I tried a bowl right away, and it was very good and almost exactly as I remembered it.  I refrigerated the rest to eat for dinner the next night, and it was really good, too.




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