Broths, Chowders, Soups, Potage.
“There is no dish, perhaps, that comes to the table which gives such general satisfaction as well prepared soup.” ~1856
Victorian cooks prided themselves on their soups. Soups were an integral part of the meal. Every menu includes one or more soup dishes as part of the first course, accompanied by fish and followed by chilled champagne. Earlier menus that were less fastidious about the order of dishes may call for a soup dish at every course. All of these soups mean that there literally hundreds of soup recipes to choose from, whether they are basic with a limited number of ingredients, or complicated and over the top show stoppers. Soup aficionados are sure to fall in love with all of the soupy offerings found in the pages of Victorian cookbooks. Here’s quick peek:
The variety of soups found in antique cookbooks is simply staggering. Most soups from the 1800s look familiar to the modern diner. Celery soup, mock turtle soup, noodle soup, chicken soup, carrot soup, potato soup, and more! Soups were most commonly made by adding various vegetables, meat pieces, and grains to the broth base.
Often, a cook would keep a soup pot at a low temperature on the back of the stove, adding to it during the day over several days. The flavors would have changed slightly, but there would have always been something warm to serve that used up the extra bits around the kitchen. Cooks also knew that timeless secret of soups: They always taste better on the second day. Shh! Don’t tell anyone!
All antique cookbooks worth their salt include basic recipes for preparing broths, also referred to as stock, whether vegetable, chicken, or beef. These recipes are commonly found at the very beginning of a cookbook because they are considered essential. Broths served as a base not only for soups, but for seasoning other dishes as well. Most broths called for simmering the bones of animals for hours to extract all of the flavor. The liquid can then be made into a savory soup. Today’s cook can accomplish the same thing by throwing the bones into a crockpot or slow cooker.
Chowders, or heartier soups, were made by thickening the broth with flour, potatoes, or bread. Cornstarch is a more modern invention. Flour would be rolled on a spoon with butter and then dissolved into the broth. Potatoes would be sliced and then mashed into the soup, thickening it. Bread was added either at the beginning of the recipe, or at the end, and as the soup cooked, the bread broke apart, thus making it an effective thickener as well.
Creamy soups were also popular. Today, we might put a soup through a blender or use a hand mixer to make a soup smooth, but 100+ years ago, the cook would have transferred the soup to a horsehair sieve or similar mesh-like container called a tamis, or “tammy”, made of a thin woolen canvas, or silk, used for straining soups and sauces. The cook worked the soup through the holes to achieve a puree. This is not easy and requires a certain amount of elbow grease. I invite you to give the sieve method a try, or check out my experiment with this tomato soup recipe.
“It should be the province of the cook to be always in a position to produce (soup) at a short notice.” ~1856
Tureen time! I firmly believe that soup tureens are one of the greatest under-used pieces of crockery in our modern era. Elegant. Stately. The intermediary between an imposing cooking pot and a humble bowl. Tureens silently announce that dinner is served. You never see them at yard sales or thrift shops. Nor are they a standard part of a dish set. Alas, the summer days of tureens have waned into autumn. What a shame.
Why are tureens so important for Victorian soup recipes?
Besides being lovely, of course. Often, soup recipes called for placing bread at the base of the vessel and then ladling the soup on top. Another popular way of serving soup involved placing hard boiled egg slices either on the bottom of the dish, same method as the bread, or on top of the soup. As you can imagine, both of these serving styles added calories and bulk to the dish.