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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[3], this little haunt we knew
  • When hearts were high and fortunes low, and onions in the stew"


The book covers the period from 1942 to 1954. Just after Pearl Harbor, divorced mother Betty was living with her two children, Anne (12) and Joan (11) in her mother's home, while working in the office of a building contractor. She met and married Donald MacDonald and they decided to set up home together. Not being able to find a suitable house in Seattle or the mainland suburbs, with the wartime influx of population, they tried the local islands, finally finding 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 neighbours (who do have a road) to catch the school bus. The adults have to follow a muddy trail to catch a ferry, which is usually done at a rush. Their house was intended as a Summer home and is cold in the Winter, so 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.

References and notes

In 1996 Betty MacDonald's Family had been interviewed by journalist Wolfgang Hampel, author of several biographícal books and stories about Betty MacDonald. Especially Betty MacDonald's youngest sister Alison Bard had a perfect memory. Alison Bard lived near by on Vashon Island and told very interesting and witty stories about her and Betty's experiences. This interview has been published on CD/DVD in 2009.

  1. ^ B. MacDonald, (1955) Onions in the Stew, Hammond & Hammond
  2. ^ Grit no 2365, May 19, 1940, page 18
  3. ^ 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


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