Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Chicken Soup for the Masses.

Today, August 22nd

Canned commercial soup was in the headlines on this day in 1971 in Texas. Campbell’s Chicken Soup to be exact. It is often said that bad publicity is good publicity, and this might be true of wannabe film stars, but it is not necessarily the case when you are a food producer and your product is being recalled because of possible botulism.

Poisoning by the nerve toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum is a pretty scary thought. It might be very desirable when injected into your wrinkles or thin lips (Bo Tox – get it?) but a mere 90 micrograms per kilogram of your body weight by mouth can paralyse you to death. The bacteria is found in soil, from whence, if you are spectacularly unlucky, it can get into you via the food you eat.

Botulism is usually associated with home-canned foods, not the commercial variety, which gives the story of the day greater impact: consumers expect the experts to do it better and safer than they can do it themselves. What is doubly ironic is that of all the lines of canned food it was chicken soup that was recalled. The universally accepted comfort food. Good for the Soul as well as the Body. A metaphor for healing, soothing, restoring. A good title for a series of books (although Chicken Soup for the Woman Golfer’s Soul may be stretching the metaphor a little far.)

The word ‘soup’ covers a broad range of dishes, but the essential feature is that the dish is ‘liquid’ and has to be drunk, or spooned. It is associated with the word ‘sops’ which used to refer to the bread which was dipped into broth or wine, but somewhere along the way, as words do, changed and came to refer to the dip not the dipper. The word ‘soup’ seems to have come into common usage in about the mid-seventeenth century, and although it often referred to a ‘pottage’, this was not always the case.

Here is an example, from Robert May’s Accomplish’t Cook (1660). The echo of ‘sops’ is here in this still quite medieval-sounding sweet-savoury recipe.

Soops, or butter’d Meats of Spinage.
Take fine young spinage, pick and wash it clean; then have a skillet or pan of fair liquor on the fire, and when it boils, put in the spinage, give it a walm [a momentary boil] or two, and take it out into a cullender, let it drain, then mince it small, and put it in a pipkin with some slic’t dates, butter, white wine, beaten cinamon, salt, sugar, and some boil’d currans, stew them well together, and dish them on sippets finely carved, and about it hard eggs in halves or quarters, not too hard boild, and scrape on sugar.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Vegetable Confectionary.

Quotation for the Day ….

And Tom brought him chicken soup until he wanted to kill him. The lore has not died out of the world, and you will still find people who believe that soup will cure any hurt or illness and is no bad thing to have for the funeral either. John Steinbeck, East of Eden

1 comment:

Liz & Louka said...

I'd not come across the word "walm" before - it seems quite useful. Perhaps it should be revived for modern recipes.]]]]]]]]"/\