Browsing through the cookbook of Katherine Windham, wife of the squire of Felbrigg Hall in the late-seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, I came across the recipe above for “Solid Soup”. What on earth might that have been? As you can see, it was a kind of primitive packet soup that would keep “for an East India voyage”, which meant several months at the very least.
Essentially, this is veal soup and would presumably be used as a basic stock to make something more interesting by adding extra ingredients. “White Soup” was a staple of many eighteenth century dinners and assemblies and veal stock was a major part of what went into making it. Indeed, in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr Bingley tells Lydia Bennet that she shall name the day for the Netherfield ball “… once Nicholls has made white soup enough …”. That implies providing White Soup was too important to omit!
To make White Soup, you began with veal stock, chicken and bacon, then added, “half a pound of rice, two anchovies, a few peppercorns, a bundle of sweet herbs, two or three onion, and three or four heads of celery cut in slices.” The soup would then be left overnight and any fat or “scum” taken off the top, before you added ground or pounded almonds, seasoning and cream.
Lack of Convenience
What strikes any modern reader, I imagine, is just what hard, long drawn-out labour was needed to produce even a simple dish. We’re used to taking something off the supermarket shelf, opening a tin or a package from the fridge or freezer, and there’s the food in a matter of perhaps 15–30 minutes at most. Not so in the eighteenth century.
That recipe for Solid Soup requires long simmering (“simper” is local dialect for “simmer”), taking the thickening mix out and cooking it still more over a pan of boiling water, then finally drying it and “keeping it from moistare” [sic. Katherine’s spelling was always wayward], presumably by wrapping it tightly and putting it somewhere dry. It sounds as if the process would take a day or more.
The charcoal stewing stove Katherine’s cooks would have used is still at Felbrigg Hall (NT). It’s made of brick and set solidly into one side of the kitchen her son had built during her lifetime.
The recipe for Solid Soup comes from Katherine Windham’s Boke of Cookery and Housekeeping, compiled in the early years of the eighteenth century. The transcription was made by my friends Bonnie Lovelock and Roger Sykes. The recipe for White Soup is from John Farley, The London Art of Cookery, 1783.