My Mother’s Gift & Tarte à l’Oignon (Onion Tart)

With Mothers’ Day approaching I’m feeling a little sentimental. I’ve been thinking about some of the gifts my mom has given me. Not the baby dolls or bicycles, the Fair Isle sweaters or even the bright red stew pot I still use today. I could dwell on the fact that she didn’t passed on her very long legs but I won’t.

Looking back, one of the best gifts my mother gave me was her enthusiasm for spirited conversation.

Dinner at our house served two critical purposes. It kept the family from starving and, more important, it brought us together every night. My mother was never particularly interested in cooking. I don’t remember her spending long hours in the kitchen. She gravitated toward quick and easy recipes and didn’t hesitate to throw a can of soup on a piece of chicken or into a pot of stew.

In spite of her indifference towards most things culinary, Mom was very keen about family dinner. For some of our neighbors, family dinner was a rare occasion, reserved for holidays or special occasions. Others raced through the evening meal and fled the table. Not so at my house, most evenings we hung out for a good hour, sometimes longer. The television was never on. Phone calls were only answered to take a message to call back later.

Every night we shared our news, victories, trials and tribulations. We discussed everything and anything. We talked about our day at school, our favorite books, celebrities and stars as well as the Boston Bruins and Red Sox. As we got older, political and social issues became key topics during our nightly conversations.

It was an exciting, turbulent time, a time of great change; kind of like now. We vigorously discussed the virtues and vices of the President and a whole host of politicians, public figures, crusaders and crooks. We deliberated over the war, civil rights, women’s rights and the environment. We shouted, we laughed, we jockeyed for position. We talked all at once, we interrupted each other in our excitement and enthusiasm. Somehow or other we managed to listen to each other (if only barely) and respect each other (if sometimes grudgingly).

Once in a blue moon, a subject was deemed off limits, inappropriate for my little brother’s young ears. Those times were few and far between. For the most part it was no holds barred. My sister and I were free to discuss, rant and rave with the passion and intensity of idealistic teenagers. Mom insisted that we never argued. In her words, we discussed enthusiastically.

Looking back, those dinners were tremendous confidence builders. I don’t ever remember my mother telling me I was wrong. From time to time she cautioned me that a particular opinion could be unpopular. She sometimes warned that a certain stand could put me on the outs with friends or neighbors. Even when she disagreed, she never discouraged my youthful dance with new ideas. Within our protective family circle, I was able to test new insights and changing opinions. I learned to listen and scrutinize an idea before accepting or rejecting it. Those dinners helped me develop the self-confidence to speak up, share my ideas and stories and listen to others. I am forever grateful.

How did I thank her? When we were little, my sister, brother and I took turns serving Mom an English muffin in bed on Mothers’ Day. Later I sent cards and flowers (when I remembered.) Now it’s a plant and I invite the family over for brunch or lunch. All in all, I definitely got the better half of the bargain.

Thank you Mom and Happy Mothers’ Day! Bon appétit!

Tarte à l’Oignon (Onion Tart)
This earthy French tart is perfect for brunch, lunch or a casual supper. Give it a try on Mothers’ Day and enjoy!
Serves 6-8
4 slices thick cut bacon (about 1/4 pound), chopped (optional – substitute with olive oil)
About 1 tablespoon butter
2 pounds onions, cut in half lengthwise and sliced in thin wedges
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Savory Flakey Pastry (recipe follows)
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch nutmeg

Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until crispy. Remove from the skillet, drain on paper towels and reserve.

Add more or less butter to the bacon drippings to coat the skillet and melt. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly caramelized, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and toss the onions with the bacon and thyme. Cool to room temperature.

While the onion is cooking and cooling, roll out the pastry dough on a lightly floured surface. Line a 9 or 10-inch tart pan with the pastry leaving about 1/4-inch for shrinkage; crimp the edges. Cover the pastry and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and arrange the rack in the middle of the oven.

Put the eggs, sour cream, mustard and nutmeg in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Add the onions and bacon and toss to combine. Pour the onion mixture into the tart shell.

Put the tart in the oven, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes or until the custard is set and the top is golden brown. Cool for 5-10 minutes and serve.

Savory Flakey Pastry
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) chilled butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, cold, cut into small pieces
2-4 tablespoons ice water

Blend the flour and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and shortening and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Sprinkle with ice water, 1-2 tablespoons at a time and process until the dough comes together in a ball. Remove the dough from the food processor and flatten into a disk. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.

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One Year Ago – Honeyed Apricots with Creamy Yogurt
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95 thoughts on “My Mother’s Gift & Tarte à l’Oignon (Onion Tart)

  1. I love this post! We didn’t really get to discuss at the dinner table – my father was more of the view that there is a time for talking and a time for eating but the two do not coincide! I always loved having dinner at my friends house because the conversations there were so lively and spirited and everyone had an opinion! Congrats on getting freshly pressed!


  2. I loved your post! And I loved that your viewpoints during dinner discussions were always honored ….what a wonderful gift!! Happy Mother’s Day to you and your Mom!
    Best wishes,


    • Many thanks Jenny. Being Freshly Pressed is great … being Freshly Pressed for a post about my mom … well … that is just wonderful. Happy Mothers’ Day – Susan


    • Thanks for stopping by and your kind words! I lived in Switzerland for 17 years and fell in love with savory tarts. This one is definitely inspired by Alsace-Lorraine. Happy Mothers’ Day – Susan


  3. Happy Mother’s Day! Meals together are truly our treasures and your wonderful tart is just what I needed to put my burgeoning crop of red scallions to grand use. Thanks for sharing both.


  4. Congratulations for being Freshly Pressed, thanks for sharing your great recipe. I used to make French Onion Tart lots of times when I lived back in germany, I should try it a gain thanks for motivation. I read your post about Oktoberfest and the different brewers, I am from Munich, but not a real beer drinker though , your post was lots of fun brought back memories from childhood riding the carroussel at the Oktoberfest. Thank you and have a wonderful Mother’s Day


    • Cornelia – Many thanks! Delighted to be Freshly Pressed – especially with a post about my mother. I lived in Switzerland for 17 years and savory tarts were one of my go-to casual-easy dinners. Now I make them a few times a year – and every time I vow to make them more often! Thanks for stopping by and Happy Mothers’ Day – Susan


  5. The family dinner is wonderful ritual that has suffered in our busy lifestyles. Thank you for the beautiful reminder of this. Your love for your mother shines in this memory. What a wonderful Mother’s Day gift this is.


  6. This so real, sincere, and heartwarming. You claim the “better” end of the deal.I know your Mom feels thev e xact same way. Yes, this true eternal Livew. Happy Mother’s Day


  7. What a delightful read! You brought back many memories for me, most of all the unconditional love and acceptance that a child feels at the dinner table. My foster mother said her ‘cooking’ was opening cans, when in fact what she was doing was opening my heart. Chris


  8. There are not a lot of food blogs that grab my attention since i am steeped in food from sunrise to sunset, but how your story weaves a conection between simplelier times and a french classic is what all food is about, remembering an experince through sight, smell and taste.


  9. Family Dinner is always an exciting part of being home. Aside from the food especially prepared for everyone, the conversation, the bonding, the laughter and warmth brought together by every member seated around the dining table is priceless. 🙂


    • Thanks Melanie. The recipe card was handwritten by my grandmother. That and the ingredients are for the pecan pie that was always on our Christmas table. Take care – Susan


    • Thanks Connie. A reader reminded me of this recipe when she recently asked for a recipe for onions – her CSA box was overflowing. I made a lot of savory tarts when I lived in Switzerland and got the inspiration for this one from a friend. She used Craig Claiborne’s recipe and I watched her make it once. This is my recreation about 20 years later … after lots of changes. It’s very cozy. Enjoy! S.


  10. I loved this post. About 8 years ago I noticed that the table in the kitchen was starting to get a healthy layer of dust on it and it was getting harder and harder to get the crumbs off the couch. The only conversing that was going on was “Could you please turn the TV up?” That is when I decided it was time to change our ways. Since then we spend most nights with 1-2 hours at the table not just eating but talking, laughing, and discussing. It was hard for my teenagers to change especially since I made our dinner table a no cell phone zone but I am so glad we did. With our busy lives, this is really the only time when we get to interact all at the same time.


    • Thank you! You are very brave to buck the crowd and return to the old fashioned family dinner. It is really worth it. I also write a column for Parenting NH and did a series of articles on family dinners. Kids who partake in family dinners do better in school, life and work. It’s all about confidence! Happy Mothers’ Day! …Susan


  11. Thank you for sharing your memories of your mother. My mother used to make a great pound cake called Konigs Kuchen. I’m going to look up the recipe and make it this weekend to share with my family. If it’s as good as I remember I’ll share it on my blog.


  12. That was an inspiring description of your dinner table… I hope ours become that one day! Thanks for sharing! (Now if only I can figure out how to make that tart kosher… 🙂 )


    • Thank you Kayla … I’m sure your table will be just as lively! Good luck with the translation to Kosher! You can certainly skip the bacon and substitute it and the butter with olive oil. You can make a lovely onion tart or croustade with onions only – no sour cream or milk and no eggs just lots of caramelized onions on a nice flaky crust. Take care and Happy Mothers’ Day – Susan


  13. This is such a lovely tribute to your mother! It made me smile the whole way through, especially as I felt I was reading about my mother and our family dinners. They are special memories and played such a huge role in making us who we are today. Thanks for sharing and congrats on being freshly pressed!


    • Thank you Dounia. Yes – being freshly pressed has put me over the moon. It is icing on the cake that it happened with one of my mom stories! She is a wonderful lady. Cool to learn you are a third culture kid. I spent most of my adult life in Switzerland with a job with heavy travel. It was a wonderful time for me – filled with so many amazing people and experiences. Have a great Mothers’ Day – Susan


  14. I love this post! We always insisted that the kids be home for dinner. That was the time that we all discussed our days and what was going on. We didn’t answer the phone (that’s what answering machines are for). Even though the kids complied under protest much of the time, now that they are grown, they thank us for those times.

    My mom is also a very special lady – survived many hardships. She is battling cancer and I spend as much time as possible with her. She is now deaf and since she can’t hear us, she rambles on …. and I love her stories. She can tell we are enjoying them.

    Hugs to your Mom and everyone else’s too!

    Thanks for the recipe – will make it this weekend for my mom! 🙂


    • Thank you Connie! I was a teenager before answering machines! It’s funny how some of the things we grudgingly accepted as teenagers have become so important. I must say I seem to remember loving those dinners even at the time. I think I realized that many of my friends’ parents were not as open-minded as mine. Somehow I knew I had something special.

      Best wishes to your mom. Think about writing down some of her stories – your kids and grandkids will appreciate it someday.

      Happy Mothers’ Day – Susan


      • We were always considered very strict – not just by our kids, but out peers – it seems it is easier to let things slide than to keep to your beliefs! Even today, my friends wonder at how we managed it with 4 teen daughters at the same time. All I can say is laughter is the BEST medicine. We always had a good time eventually….My girls are now in their mid to late 20’s and fondly recall many of those conversations, often collapsing in fits if giggling.


        • I love it! Kudos! My parents only had to deal with 2 teenage girls, a short reprieve and then a teenage boy. My mother always said the worst times in a woman’s life is when she is thirteen and when her daughters are thirteen. Lots of drama!!!


  15. I love family dinners. My mother wasn’t much of a cook either, but we always sat down at the table every night with something hot and chatted about what was going on. We still do it to this very day. It’s always been so important to her.


  16. I read your post slowly and loved every bit of it. You had a great childhood and teenhood. I fully agree with you that discussions with family members builds confidence among children. Also, liked your mother’s way of saying ‘some statements/ideas may make you unpopular’ instead of saying ‘you are wrong’. Salute to your mother!


    • Thank you Mikalee – my mother is a very special lady. She has Alzheimer’s Disease now but she still loves to see her family around the table. Happy Mothers’ Day and take care – Susan


      • My grandmother also had Alzheimer’s, and I cherished the look behind her often vacant eyes…the look that reflected her inherent love for the interaction, for the gathering, for the efforts. She may not have recognized us, but she was appreciative of us. And in those days, that meant the world!

        I’m sending special hugs across cyberspace to you and your family — and happy Mother’s Day to you as well!


        • Mikalee – Aren’t you nice! Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease but in spite of it, my mother remains cheerful. If only we all could be so positive. I learn from her everyday. Happy Mothers’ Day to you and yours! …S.


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