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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Black Broth

I have no idea who Mr Sparks was, but he obviously made an impression on at least one of the many ladies through whose hands one particular manuscript¹ passed, for there are no fewer than nine of his recipes included over the course of ten pages.

I have been unable to find any printed cookery book with a Mr Sparks as author, so must assume that these recipes were copied from one handwritten source into another as a result of having tasted the dishes in question. I almost have more confidence in a handwritten recipe with a name attached that is otherwise untraceable, because it hints at genuine originality: someone created it, someone ate it, that someone liked it so much, they asked for the recipe.

Original Black Broth recipe
Source: MS7851, Wellcome Library Collection

This black broth is made with venison. Venison is beautifully lean meat, which also means that it can be prone to toughness on the less prime cuts such as shoulder, or the ‘helpfully’ diced meat (that gives no hint as to which part of the animal it came from) available in packs in the supermarket.

Long, slow poaching in a flavoursome broth makes for fall-apart tender meat, perfect for a warming winter soup. This recipe uses a method gleaned from old manuscripts that is the opposite of what we do today, namely frying the meat after it has been cooked. I’ve used it with ragoos and fricassees and have been delighted with the added richness it gives both to the flavour of the meat and to the dish as a whole. The butter might seem extravagant, but it is a sumptuous
complement to the leanness of the venison.

A slow-cooker is ideal for this largely set-it-and-forget-it hearty soup, but you can also cook it on the stove top on a very low heat, or covered in the oven at 140°C/120°C fan/gas 1.

Black Broth

1kg venison shoulder, in one piece if possible, otherwise cut into large cubes.
3 slices wholemeal bread
3 onions
9 cloves
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch mixed herbs
1tbs peppercorns
1tsp salt
1.5 litres beef stock
50g unsalted butter
3-4tbs chopped, mixed herbs
gravy browning (optional)

2-3 slices of white bread, crusts removed, cut into 1cm cubes

marigold petals to garnish

  • Toast the bread as dark as possible without turning black.
  • Peel the onions and stick 3 cloves into each one.
  • Add all of the ingredients down to the stock to the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours.
  • Remove the meat from the cooking liquid and trim all fat, skin and connective tissue. Cut into suitably-sized pieces if not already cubed.
  • Strain the cooking liquid and discard the solids. Remove all fat from the broth, either with a separator jug or by chilling the liquid in the fridge and allowing the fat to solidify on top, then lifting off. Taste and decide if the broth requires any embellishment. You can improve the flavour of the broth, if necessary, with various flavouring sauces such as, but not limited to, mushroom ketchup, walnut ketchup, anchovy essence, Henderson’s Relish, Worcestershire Sauce, Marmite, Bovril, soy sauce.
  • Melt the butter in a large pan and add the pieces of cooked venison.
  • Braise the meat over a medium-low heat, turning often but carefully, to avoid breaking it apart further, until the meat is richly browned.
  • Return the meat to the broth and heat through. Add the chopped herbs and taste to check the seasoning. Add pepper, salt and more of the flavourings as required. If you’d like your broth darker, use a drop or two of gravy browning.
  • Add the cubed bread to the remaining butter and toss over medium heat until crisped and browned.
  • Serve sippets (for that is what you have just made) and marigold petals (if available) sprinkled into the broth.

 

¹ MS7851, Wellcome Library Collection. Various marks of ownership are written in the book, in a number of hands. ‘Elizabeth Browne 1697’, ‘Penelope Humphreys’, ‘Sarah Studman’, ‘D Milward’ and ‘Mary Dawes Jan 18 1791’.

Seafood Pottage

This recipe is an attempt to recreate a dish served at the legendary Pontack’s Head tavern in Abchurch Lane, which reigned supreme as London’s foremost eatery at the close of the seventeenth century.

It is listed in the Johnson Family Receipts manuscript as Crayfish Pottage, but the instructions give so much leeway in terms of ingredients, it’s more appropriate to call it a seafood pottage. It would appear that the Johnson Family, or whomever composed the recipes in the manuscript, was a great admirer of the fare at Pontack’s, as there are no fewer than four entries ascribed to that establishment. Whether they were frequent visitors or merely collected the receipts from others, it gives a glimpse into the  type of food served and enjoyed there by Pepys, Swift, Defoe and London’s society elite.

Although luxurious, with ready-prepared seafood and good quality fish stock, it is ready in mere moments.

Original Recipe
Source: MS3082, Wellcome Library Collection

Seafood Pottage

Serves 4

1 litre fish stock
250g soft white breadcrumbs
4 spring onions, finely chopped
½ tsp ground mace
½ tsp ground allspice
400g prepared crayfish tails, prawns, lobster, cockles, mussels, shrimp
1 handful fresh parsley
8 sprigs dill
2 large yolks
150ml double cream
salt and pepper to taste
Put the fish stock, breadcrumbs, onion, mace and allspice into a pan and simmer for 10 minutes
until slightly reduced.
Whisk the yolks with the cream and mix into the soup, stirring as the mixture thickens.
Add the prepared seafood and allow to warm through.
Strip the fresh herbs from the stalks, chop finely and stir into the soup.
Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
Serve with crusty bread and toast sippets.

Mussel Pottage

A pottage is a thickened, substantial cross between a soup and a stew. I was drawn to this recipe by the lazy cook in me that is always looking for a simpler, easier way to achieve tasty food.

When this recipe was jotted down three hundred years ago, it would have been quite hard work to prepare: collecting the mussels, cleaning them, steaming them, straining the sand from the broth, etc.

Luckily for us, we have the luxury of buying what someone else has collected and cleaned, and also cooked. Whilst you can certainly buy fresh mussels in their shells and prepare them yourself, cooked mussels and prepared fish stock can bring this dish together in just minutes. I’ve been rather specific with the number of mussels, however you should feel free to increase this quantity with abandon, if so inclined.

Mussel Pottage

Serves 4

500ml fish stock
250ml water
4 slices of white bread, crusts removed
2 blades mace
½ tsp ground allspice
150ml cream
3 large yolks
1tbs anchovy sauce
32 cooked mussels
30g butter
2tbs chopped parsley to serve

  • Put the stock, water, bread, spices and anchovy sauce into a pan and bring to a boil.
  • Turn the heat down and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat, fish out the mace and purée with a stick blender.
  • Mix the cream, anchovy sauce and the yolks together and whisk into the soup.
  • Set aside 12 mussels for garnish and add the remainder to the soup. Warm gently.
  • When ready to serve, melt the butter in a pan and when hot, quickly toss the mussels set aside for garnish in the hot butter for about a minute, to heat through .
  • Serve garnished with the fried mussels and a sprinkle of chopped parsley.