Historical Cooking, Week 5: Soup
This week we have a guest post from Amanda Zoch in the USA who attempts to make a soup from our recipe book – the complete manuscript is available for viewing on our Digital Collections Portal
My previous attempts at renaissance cookery have been limited to desserts, and though I love baking, when approached with the opportunity to test out a seventeenth-century recipe from ms38990, the autumn chill in the air inspired me to make a soup.
Ein fasten supen zu Machen – To make a fast soup
“Nim angken in ein gefannen, ein handt voll kraut beretsh vndt kerblikraut lauch vndt sonst allerlay krüter spinatz mangelt, hackeβ fein wohl vnderein ander, vnd sest fein wol im angken, so eβ wol geröstet ist, so shüteβ ab in ein haffen, wasser darin, daβ du gnug habest enzurichten, dan nim saffert und 3 nägely vndt allerlei eβpeceri darin, vnd ein renff Brodt, vndt ein stuck angken darin, vnd kocheβ wol vnder einanderen, nim daβ gäl von 2 hünren wol geklopffet ein wenig muβgatnuβ ein glaβ wol wein, rüereβ wol vnder ein anderen, vnd thues in daβ heffelin shüte in ein blatten vnd richteβ βie an.“
“Put butter in a pan, a handful of borage and chervil, wild garlic and otherwise any kind of leaf spinach, mangel root, cut them up small together, and [cook] them well in the butter, when it is well cooked, then tip into a pot, add water, so that there is enough to serve, then take [saffron] and 3 cloves and all sort of [eβpeceri] and put these in, and a [hunk] of bread, and add a bit of butter, cook well together, take the yolk from 2 hen’s eggs well beaten, a bit of nutmeg and a glass of wine, mix well together and put into the pan, then pour into a bowl and serve.”
This recipe for a “fast soup,” one of two in the manuscript, appears similar to the German sieben kräutersuppe (seven herb soup) and kerbelsuppe (chervil soup), which are traditionally served on Maundy Thursday (Grendonnerstag). The addition of “mangel root” (a type of beet grown for cattle) to a soup of this ilk, however, seems uncommon, as does the combination of saffron, cloves, and nutmeg.
When gathering ingredients, I had to make a few substitutions because borage is hard to come by where I live (Indiana) and ramps (“wild garlic”) are no longer in season. I substituted with spinach and scallions, respectively. Because the volumes given are vague (a handful, a bit, etc.), I measured mostly by sight and tried to assess by taste as I went along, which is normally how I approach recipes anyway. I like to save the precision for my dissertation!
The combination of fresh spinach, chervil, scallions, and a red sugar beet (my grocery store, unsurprisingly, doesn’t carry mangel, the livestock variety called for by the recipe) looked like a tasty salad.
As the vegetables cooked down, the bright smell permeated my house, intriguing my initially skeptical guests. Left in this simple broth-y form, I think we all would’ve been pleased with the simple and rustic result, even if it seemed a little too much like a GOOP-authorized detox.
Unfortunately, the next additions were less successful. Although the egg yolks gave the soup a silky texture, the disintegrating bread (a thickening technique that can have wonderful results) was unpleasantly squashy in the thin broth. The wine—I used a small glass of a days-old red blend—overpowered the vegetal flavors, and the spices brought out the beet’s sweetness which clashed with the soup’s otherwise savory profile. Most significantly, it looked revolting.
Although the recipe states to serve the soup as is, I contemplated blending it all together, which might have solved the texture issues. In the end, however, I decided that whirling together pink and green into an undoubtedly foul brown would not improve the visual aesthetic.
I shared this soup with some of my fellow early modernists at Indiana University, and the brave souls looked past the soup’s poor visual impression to deem it “not inedible,” the highest praise I could coax out of them. I actually found it the most palatable of any of us—which is not to say it’s something I would ever want to eat again—but my colleagues posit that is because I am a vegetarian and used to eating, as one person put it, food that “tastes like a garden.”
If I were to make this again, I would skip the beet. I like beets, but their earthy sweetness overwhelmed each spoonful of the delicate greens. I would also recommend blending the soup into a puree (the color should stay a rich green without the beet). With these changes, we’re almost right back at the traditional German seven herb soup (give or take a few herbs), and that may be next thing I make when I hunger for a taste of the past.