Fasting Day Soup

On my other blog I recently posted my version of the classic Leek and Potato Soup, which is a firm favourite not only because of its deliciousness but also its simplicity to make. I thought it would be nice to complement it here with an equally delicious and equally simple-to-make soup from three centuries ago.

This Fasting Day Soup comes from the manuscript recipe and household book of the Coley family (MS1711), and is held in the archives at the Wellcome Library.

It would have been served on one of the many fasting (i.e. non-meat) days that used to be observed in the church calendar, and as such is eminently suitable for vegetarians and, with a little adjustment, vegans. It is so speedily made, it takes only about 30 minutes from start to finish.

In the original recipe, it is thickened through a combination of breadcrumbs and egg-yolks. For simplicity, I would recommend choosing just one of these, and to keep the soup accessible to anyone with a gluten intolerance, the yolks are the obvious choice, adding both richness and silkiness of texture. Vegans will obviously need to choose breadcrumbs, or a different thickener, or indeed no thickener at all.

The main flavourings are of lettuce, spinach and chervil, which are unusual for a soup, but their delicate nature allows for the soup to be quickly made. As already mentioned, the soup is enriched with egg yolk and also the addition of bright green pistachios. When purréed smooth, the colour is truly glorious, something not accurately reflected in the photo, alas.

I particularly liked the serving suggestion of a toast and a poached egg, to which I have added only a scattering of chopped pistachios.

Fasting Day Soup recipe
Fasting Day Soup recipe, circa 1750 – MS.1711, Wellcome Library Collection

Fasting Day Soup

50g unsalted butter
4 gem lettuce
200g baby spinach
1 bunch fresh chervil – or 3tbs dried
0.5tsp salt
50g shelled pistachios
1 onion – peeled
8 cloves
1 litre boiling water
3 large egg yolks
60ml white wine
juice of 1 lemon

to serve: per person
1 slice of bread, toasted
1 poached egg
a few chopped pistachios
coarse-ground black pepper

  • Shred the lettuce, spinach and chervil finely.
  • Melt the butter in a pan and heat gently until browned.
  • Add the greens and stir until wilted.
  • Stick the cloves into the onion and add to the pot with the pistachios, salt and hot water.
  • Simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Take about a cup of liquid from the pan and remove the onion. Blend the soup smooth using either a liquidiser or use a stick blender.
  • Whisk the yolks with the white wine, then slowly add the cup of liquid to the yolk mixture, whisking thoroughly.
  • Pour the egg mixture into the soup and stir over a medium heat until the soup thickens. Do not let the soup boil.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning, adding some or all of the lemon juice to taste.
  • Serve with toast, a poached egg and a sprinkling of chopped pistachios.
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