Category Archives: Soups

How the British Royal Family was saved by soup…

It’s Queen Elizabeth the Second’s diamond jubilee this year, so thought I should write a post or two on the Royal Family…

In recent times, the Royal Family have been under threat of being dissolved in Britain, due to what seemed like a total lack of support. It feels that in the past the Royals were revered, but they have fallen in and out of favour with the public rather alot. Popularity during the early twentieth century for example was pretty low. Today, Prince William seems to have picked up today’s royals’ momentum again, but back then it was King George V that turned them around, and what helped him to do that was soup…

The Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary

George became King of England in 1911 in a time of turmoil and constitutional crisis, the Great War was a-brewing and the Royal Family were seen as totally outdated. George himself was vehemently against modernisation, and things seemed a lost cause. George and his wife, Queen Mary, spend much time visiting the poor and doing their bit, but to little effect. The reason for all this was because of the Labour Party’s increasing popularity and also the rumblings of revolt in autocratic Russia. Was the smell of revolution in the air? Possibly, but things began to change during the Great War. In 1917, the Russian Royal family sought asylum in Britain and the British Government duly granted it. But then, in waded George and refused them entry – he knew that helping such an old and autocratic institution would be embarrassing and most probably disastrous for the British Royal Family and for the country too. He realised he must distance the two families. Tsar Nicholas and his family were brutally killed the following year by the Bolsheviks.

The Silver Jubilee edition of The Daily Mirror, 7 May 1935

George then realised that the Royal Family needed to distance themselves from their German ancestry, deciding to anglicise the surname – Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha was not helping them at all during the fight against the Bosch. But what to change it to? After some pondering, the private secretary came up with a name that would inspire Britishness (and George considered himself to be British through and through). The name was, of course, Windsor. Why Windsor? Well, it was because of the ubiquitous Brown Windsor soup served up by every housewife at the time. It was ‘a nourishing brown…with a certain hearty dullness’. Windsor also linked to the ancient Windsor Castle. This was just what George needed, and it really changed the public’s views. Soon after, he introduced the Order of the British Empire (or, OBE), which clinched the whole affair. He died in 1936 much beloved by the British Public.

The people of Yarmouth celebrate the King’s Silver Jubilee

Brown Windsor soup, later shortened to simply ‘brown soup’ went a little downhill. It became a rather thin and tasteless affair served up in hotels and it gave British soup a bad name. This seems to happen all too often to much of our food. I always blame wartime rationing for these things, but I think I right this time: small amounts of meat made the soup boring, and over time people perhaps simply forgot what Brown Windsor soup used to be like.

Well take it from me, it used to be a delicious thick and hearty soup, perfect for this cold weather we are having. It’s pretty cheap too. This recipe comes from the wonderful cookery writer Lindsey Bareham’s book A Celebration of Soup. Her version cranks up the stodge-o-meter with the addition of horseradish dumplings; and we all need stodge mid-February.

For the dumplings:

4 oz. self-raising flour

¼ tsp salt

2 oz. beef suet

ground black pepper

1 oz. grated horseradish, or a good creamed proprietary brand

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in the suet and a seasoning and pepper. Mix in the horseradish and stir in enough cold water to bring the dough together in your hands. The dough should be soft and elastic, but not too sticky to handle. Flour your hands and roll 16 to 20 small dumplings. To cook the dumplings, turn up the heat on soup and plop them in. They should take about 15 to 20 minutes to cook.

For the soup:

1 oz. butter

a small onion, thinly sliced

the green of a leek, thinly sliced

a small carrot, diced

10 oz. stewing steak

1 tbs flour

2 ½ pints of beef stock

a bouquet garni made with 2 bay leaves, 4 parsley stalks, a sprig of thyme and a crushed garlic clove

1 tbs chopped parsley (optional)

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and cook the onion for a few minutes to soften slightly, then add the leek and carrot. Season well with salt and pepper – the salt is very important as it helps to draw the flavour from the vegetables – cover the pan and cook for a further 5 minutes or so. Turn up the heat and add the meat, browning it all over. Next, stir in the flour and cook for a couple more minutes before adding a little stock. Make sure you scrape off any crusty bits of beef or flour from the pan’s bottom with your wooden spoon.  Now pour in the rest, bring to the boil, add the bouquet garni and then turn the heat down, cover and simmer for 2 hours. Liquidise the soup and reheat, adding more seasoning should it need adjusting. Stir in the parsley just before you serve the soup.

12 Comments

Filed under food, General, history, Meat, Recipes, Soups, The Royals, Twentieth Century

The Dumpling Eaters

For those of you not in the know, in England a dumpling is a small ball of suet dough that has been poached in water, milk, stock, soup or stew. Dumplings have been around for a while, and started life just a mixture of flour and water.

The Roman invasion force under Julius Caesar lands in Britain met by a horde of natives

by Mary Evans

During the Roman invasion and occupancy, somewhere around AD50, their own version of the dumpling was introduced that was made of lentils rather than flour. They didn’t catch on. As time passed, our own British dumpling began to get a little more complex: milk was added along with extra ingredients and became larger and larger until it had to wrapped in some cloth. It was at this point the pudding was born.  I’m not going to talk about puddings in this post as they need their own one themselves. The British then became famous for their puddings. The humble dumpling still remained very popular though and became quite upmarket in rich households: they were enriched with ingredients such as butter, bone marrow and sugar. Fresh and dried fruits were also popular.

King John signing the Magna Carta in Runnymede on 15th June 1215

King John (1166-1216), was a massive consumer of dumplings, and thought it necessary that on a Sunday every man in his court should breakfast on wine and dumplings. The king was advised by a Sir John and it was he who got King John into eating them. He was found out as a witch because he “had perform’d many Hellish and Diabolical Ceremonies”, including one that caused the king to think that the moon was made of green cheese. No-one seemed to blame the Magna Carta or the losing of the crown jewels on witchcraft though. His dumplings and puddings were so delicious that it was assumed that the reason for this but be that he was in league with the Devil. People soon realised it was because he put nice things in them, and forever onward, Sir John was named Sir John Pudding.

These two Johns were Dumpling Eaters according Messrs Thomas Gordon and Henry Carey in their bizarre essay from 1726: A Learned Dissertation on Dumpling; Its Dignity, Antiquity and Excellence With a Word upon Pudding; and Many other Useful Discoveries, of Great Benefit to the Publick. Snappy title, eh? The original Dumpling Eaters, they say, were a race that split from the Romans during their British occupancy. When the Romans left, these Dumpling Eaters ‘wisely resolv’d never to go Home again’, because they had devoped such a taste for them. They spent their time eating many dumplings and worshipping the god Bacchus rather heavily, if you get my meaning.  The Dumpling Eater Doctrine was still around in the early eighteenth century, where they could be found in their club house where they would eat ‘not only Dumplings but Puddings; and those in no small Quantities’. What became of the Dumpling Eaters, I do not know. I do hope there still an Order of them around.

There are many recipes for dumplings around, both sweet and savoury. I thought I’d share this recipe with you for wild mushroom dumplings which I made not too long ago. At my local Farmer’s Market, there was a stall selling locally picked mushrooms and I couldn’t resist. I had some duck stock that I had made in the freezer (see this post for recipe), so I thought I would make a nice clear duck soup into which I could poach my dumplings. I shall give some more recipes for dumplings as I find more recipes for them. The soup is of my own invention and the dumplings recipe comes from the always excellent Lyndsey Bareham.

For the soup

1 1/2 pints of duck stock

1 carrot, finely diced

a bay leaf

2 springs of fresh thyme

For the dumplings

2 oz self-raising flour

salt and pepper

1 oz suet

1 oz of wild mushrooms, finely diced

1 small shallot, finely diced

To make your duck stock clear, you need to clarify it. There are many ways to do this, but by far the easiest is to freeze it and then wrap it in a piece of muslin or a cloth and allow it to defrost slowly in the fridge.

You should find that the stock that comes out is perfectly filtered by the cloth. You’ll also be surprised at the solid bits left behind in the cloth.

Anyways, pour the stock into a pan along with the carrot, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for around five minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

During the simmering time, whip up your mushroom dumplings: mix together all the ingredients in a bowl and mix in just enough water to make a soft dough.

Take pieces of dough and roll them into balls a little smaller than a walnut. Place the dumping in the simmering soup, turning up the heat so that they cook through. They should be done in no longer than 15 minutes.

Easy!

More dumpling recipes:

Horseradish Dumplings

7 Comments

Filed under food, history, Meat, Recipes, Soups, Vegetables

The Pearls of the Fields

Autumn is nearly upon us and that means it will soon be mushroom season. I haven’t much experience with gathering mushrooms myself, but have found them in the past when walking in the woods. I reckon there are only about five types I can identify and be 100% sure I know what they are. When you do see some that you know, it is very exciting to collect them and bring them home. There is, apparently, a mushroom-collectors’ club in St Louis, so I shall be checking that out.

Oyster mushrooms are easy to find – they grow on dead beech trees

 Jew’s ear fungus is less well-known, but very easy to identify

Our relationship with mushrooms goes back a long, long way; mushrooms were consumed by Paleolithic man ten thousand years ago. Fungi, then as now, were not just used as food, but also as poison and for their narcotic effects.

Field and woodland mushrooms were highly-prized; it is odd to think that oysters were once used as a cheap mushroom substitute. These days, the basic mushroom is the closed cap cultivated kind, which was only grown on a large scale in the nineteenth century, so it is obvious why they were so highly sought-after. This was only in Britain though, the Romans managed to cultivate them way back when, as did the French a century before we British. We were just a bit slow on the uptake there, I suppose.

Mushrooms also were thought to be magical: they cause the familiar fairy rings you see during rainy periods in late summer and seemed to appear from nowhere. The first century Greek physician Dioscorides, suggested throwing the shredded bark of the poplar tree over compost to obtain mushrooms ‘spontaneously’ by ‘the grace of the gods’. In the Middle Ages, mushrooms were officially pronounced magical, and it was up to the alchemists of the day to try and discover the secret of creation from them (they must’ve become frustrated with the turning base metals into gold thing).

A fairy ring of mushrooms

Mushrooms have been used to give food an interesting meaty and earthy flavour to food. The reason they are so good for this job is that they all chock-full of umami – the recently-discovered fifth taste. Cooks in the eighteenth century made a lot of mushroom ketchup and mushroom powder for seasoning food, and I will make some myself eventually and put the results on this blog.

I love mushrooms of all kinds, so I thought I would give a couple of recipes – one historical, and the other a British classic.

Alexis Soyer (1810-1858)

The first is from a book called Shilling Cookery for the People by Alexis Soyer, published in 1854. He was the first celebrity chef and I am sure he’ll get a posting all to himself at some point. He happened upon some tasty field mushrooms and tells us the story of how he came up with a recipe for those ‘pearls of the field’:

“Being in Devonshire, at the end of September and walking across the fields before breakfast to a small farmhouse, I found three very fine mushrooms, which I thought would be a treat, but on arriving at the house I found it had no oven, a bad gridiron and a smoky coal fire. Necessity, they say, is the mother of Invention, I immediately applied to our grand and universal mamma, how should I dress my precious mushrooms, when a gentle whisper came to my ear… The sight when the glass is removed, is most inviting, its whiteness rivals the everlasting snows of Mont Blanc, and the taste is worthy of Lucullus. Vitellius would never have dined without it; Apicius would never have gone to Greece to seek for crawfish; and had he only half the fortune left when he committed suicide, he would have preferred to have left proud Rome and retire to some villa or cottage to enjoy such an enticing dish.”

I have reported this recipe in the other blog with Jane Grigson’s modifications for making the delicious dish yourself in a modern oven. Click here for the recipe. Try it – you will not be disappointed, no siree.

For some crazy reason there is no recipe for Cream of Mushroom Soup in Jane Grigson’s English Food. I do not know why this is because when I was thinking about recipes that were omitted from the book, it was one of the most glaringly obvious absentees. As you may know, it is one of the reasons for doing this blog – compiling recipes that were missed out of English Food. This recipe is one of my staples and is from Lindsey Bareham’s excellent book A Celebration of Soup. It is delicious and very quick to make and uses the old-fashioned way of thickening soups with the use of old bread.

Ingredients:

2 oz stale white bread

milk

1 lb mushrooms, finely chopped (any kind, but Portobello mushrooms are the best for this)

2 oz butter

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

2 tbs finely chopped parsley

salt, pepper and nutmeg

1 pint of chicken or vegetable stock

4 fl oz double cream

Place the bread in a dish and pour enough milk over it to make it nice and soggy. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the mushrooms.
Cover, and simmer for five minutes. Squeeze the milk out of the bread, break it up and add it to the pan along with the garlic, parsley and the seasonings (don’t be tight with that nutmeg, folks) before pouring the stock over the lot. Bring to a boil, and turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for a further ten minutes. Pop the soup into the blender, return to the pan, stir in the cream and bring back to the boil. Easy!

If you want to do a low-fat version, use some fat-free cream cheese like Quark, or just use milk instead of cream.

That’s enough mushroom talk for now, I think….

2 Comments

Filed under food, history, Recipes, Soups, The Victorians, Vegetables