Start by filling the house with people.
It’s not worth it to cook caramelized onions for fewer than ten people, so you’ll need to begin by making some friends. Encourage them to bring their friends. Start a craft night on Wednesdays. Leave the door unlocked; nobody can hear knocking over the noise of the dogs anyway. Put a movie on in the front room. 13th Warrior is good, or Salute of the Jugger.
Send someone out for more butter.
Turn the oven on to 375 degrees. You won’t need the oven for the onions, but they take a while and you might as well make some toasted cheese sandwiches too. Text whoever’s out for butter: cheese and wonder bread.
Take the cast iron skillets out of the oven and put them on the stovetop. You’ll want all three of the big ones. You can find good skillets at Goodwill sometimes or the Salvation Army. Learn to scrub rust and season cast iron.
Take the little skillets out of the oven, too. Use one of the crocheted mitts to do it; by now the skillets will be too hot to touch. Swear at the skillets for being hot and at the mitt for having holes.
Yell at the young dog to stop licking the baseboard.
Slice the ends off a dozen or so onions. Slice the remaining pucks vertically once. Place the hemispheres facedown on a wooden cutting board that has so many knife marks that it looks like the top of a peanut butter cookie. Peel the outer, papery skin off the onions. Put the ends and skins in a bucket to save for dyeing, and put the bucket on the refrigerator. One time in three, knock the bucket off the refrigerator and onto your head. If that happens, swear again.
Put six sticks of butter in the three large skillets and turn the electric stove to HIGH. While you wait for the butter to melt, tell the story about your Swedish grandfather and the Mauser. Walk into the front room to check on the movie and the dogs. There are no people in the front room; by now they are all in the kitchen.
Slice the onion hemispheres into half-pucks exactly one-quarter-inch thick. Put the sliced onions into the skillets, rearranging them at least twice until they look even.With a metal spatula, begin turning the onions until all the onions are evenly coated with butter. Add a palmful of salt to each skillet, and keep turning. Do not let anyone try to flip the onions like a pancake this time.
Greet the person who went to the store. Put the fresh butter in the refrigerator, except for two sticks. Put those sticks in a Pyrex measuring cup with the graduation markings worn off and microwave for one minute on high. Assign someone short to watch the butter so that it doesn’t explode.
Turn down the heat on the skillets. Flip the onions.
Lay four cookie sheets out on the counter and brush them with melted butter. Lay out two loaves of bread on the cookie sheets, with the slices not quite touching. Assign someone to cut cheese and someone else to put cheese on the bread until it is all evenly covered.
Flip the onions. Point out that the onions are not yet fully transparent despite having been cooked for as long as most recipe books claim it takes to caramelize an onion. Caramelizing an onion is not the same as cooking an onion to transparency. It can take over an hour, and it’s not worth doing it for people you don’t care about. Discuss the different sugar content of different types of onions. These are Walla Walla sweet onions, the highest in sugar.
Cover the cheese and bread with the slices from the remaining two loaves of bread. Brush the tops with more melted butter and put the sandwiches in the oven for eight minutes exactly. Turn the heat down on the stovetop again and flip the onions.
Spend eight minutes in the living room with your guests. Point out the topstitching on the Norse costumes in 13th Warrior and discuss when topstitching actually became “a thing.” Discuss different ways to finish a seam that are period-appropriate and look better than topstitching. Point out the bit of music that will be recycled for Kingdom of Heaven.
Flip both the cheese sandwiches and the onions. Set the timer for five minutes and return to your critique of textiles.
When the buzzer goes off, take the cheese sandwiches out of the oven and cut them diagonally, crusts on. Pile them on the good plates and send everyone out to the front room to eat. No-one will actually leave the kitchen. Turn the onions, which will finally be beginning to brown.
Eat three half-sandwiches while you watch the onions turn from translucent to golden to slick and brown. Talk about cast iron, and Sweden, about muskets and rifles and rescue dogs. Talk about fixing the littlest girls’ hair and makeup for their bharatnatyam performances, and about how the recital went last week. Tell the story of when the old dog leapt all the way onto the back of the counter and stole a loaf of bread.
When the onions are completely golden brown all the way through and dark at the edges, remove them from the skillet with tongs. If any onions still hold their shape, return them to the skillet for ten minutes. Put all the caramelized onions in Tupperware. Put the Tupperware in the refrigerator.