Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Soup for the Queen of Scots.

December 8th in 1542 was the birthday of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary Stewart, as we know, became Queen of Scotland at the age of six days upon the death of her father, James V. She met her untimely end as a result of her claim to the English throne, which led to her trial and execution for treason in 1587.

There is a rather mysterious soup named in her honour. Actually, several mysteries attach to The Queen of Scots Soup. The soup itself is simple enough: it is a light chicken soup with eggs and parsley stirred in at the last minute. But why or how it came to be named for her, I cannot tell, nor can I find the name of the originator. Was there ever indeed a published recipe for The Queen of Scots Soup, or was it a figment of the imagination of a nineteenth century Scottish writer?

I know of the recipe only from a secondary source – The Edinburgh Literary Journal of September 1829. The article introduces a ‘curious black-letter book’, which turns out to be the 1631 edition of Murrell’s A New Booke of Cookerie. The journal being Scottish, the writer, quite naturally, was delighted to find in its pages the recipe for The Queen of Scots Soup, and gives this (or a loose translation of it) in his article. He (it must surely be a male, in this journal at this time) begins by saying “we are seriously of the opinion that, for the sake of the Royal House of Stuart, it should immediately become a standard dish with all the defenders of Mary and her unfortunate family.”

Here is the recipe, as given by the author of the Edinburgh Literary Journal article.

The soup is made thus: “Six chickens are cut in small pieces, with the heart, gizzard, and liver well washed, then put into a stew-pan, and just covered with water, and boiled till the chickens are enough. Season it with salt and cayenne pepper; and mince parsley with eight eggs, yolks and whites beat up together. Stir round altogether just as you are going to serve it up. Half a minute will boil the eggs.”

The article went on to opine that “This must be a delicate and gentle soul, worthy of the amiable dispositions of Mary, and every way calculated to produce a beneficial effect on the female character.

My difficulty is that I am unable to find a 1631 edition of Murrell’s A New Booke of Cookerie to verify the recipe. It is not in the 1615 edition or the 1638 edition – although I admit to a quick scanning of both of these versions (I am moving house this week, so I can be forgiven, surely?) If I have missed it, or you know the actual whereabouts of this recipe, do please tell us all.

Quotation for the Day

I live on good soup, not fine words.


Foose said...

I can't access Murrell's book, but I did come across some gastronomic histories that suggested he deliberately targeted his book at newly consumerist middle-class women, who would be impressed by "royal" and foreign associations to the recipes. His introduction boasts that he had collected recipes on his travels to Italy and France. It would be interesting indeed to know whether his "Queen of Scots" recipe was for the established French "queen's soup" or whether he improved the association by specifically linking it to Mary Queen of Scots (or if indeed he had an actual recipe with a legitimate provenance to Mary).

I also found a book called Sacred Cow, Mad Cow, by Madeleine Ferrieres, who discusses the tradition of associating food with queens in France (where Mary Queen of Scots was briefly a queen consort, contemporary with the women itemized below) in the course of a chapter on why white bread had such a huge social significance:

"For each wife of the king, there was a product named after her: the bread for Queen Marie de' Medici, the plum for Queen Claude, the soup for Queen Marguerite de Valois (emphasis mine), the herb for Queen Catherine de' Medici...

"...The example of potage a la reine, the queen's soup, may help us understand...The soup that delighted the Valois court was nothing other than blancmange, which had been appearing for decades on the tables of princes and bourgeois... Thus a la reine seems one of those uncontrolled appellations d'origine used to describe what is noble and best in the food order - the best, inevitably, being light and white."

SharleneT said...

Sounds like a variation of egg drop soup... but definitely easy on the tummy... Very interesting and, again, thanks for your research and information... Come visit when you can...

Angela said...

Was the inclusion of egg inspired by the chinese kind of egg drop soup or was this too early for that influence in scottish cooking? Or is the egg just a thickener of this soup? Fascinating history though!!

Sarah St-McGoodbody said...

It's funny that you should mention this because I just read about another soup named after Mary Queen of Scots: Consommé Marie Stuart. Mutton consommé with pearl barley and finely chopped seasonal vegetables. Definitely has more of a Scottish feel to it.