Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tea Soup.

I came across a reference recently to ‘Tea Soup’, and was momentarily both intrigued (because I had never heard of it before), and embarrassed (that I may therefore have omitted an important topic from Soup: A Global History.)

The story appears in Travels in France and Germany in 1865 and 1866, by Edmund Spencer, and, as you can probably guess, has as its background theme that old enmity and mutual bafflement that has characterised the relationship between England and France for centuries. Here it is:

In connexion with this subject, I must relate my first adventure in the land of the Gaul, which deserves to be recorded, if for nothing else than to show how widely we differed at that time in all our habits, customs, and usages, from a people who were only separated from us by a narrow channel of the sea. 
My father, who at the period referred to was somewhat of an invalid, rarely took any beverage stronger than tea, and knowing how little the French prized the fragrant herb, had provided himself with a plentiful supply before leaving England.
Now, as my little sister and myself were supposed to speak French with great fluency, having been taught it almost from infancy by a French emigrant, we were deputed by my father to give the necessary instructions to the waiter as to the preparation of a dish of tea; but whether the garcon, who was a native of Picardy, understood no other language than his own patois, or that our French, spoken with an English accent, was unintelligible to him, I cannot say; certain, however, it is, the attempt made by the cook to comply with our wishes was most original, for the waiter laid on the table, much to our discomfiture as linguists, and to my father's infinite amusement, a large soup tureen, filled with the water in which the fragrant herb had been boiled, the whole carefully seasoned with pepper, salt, onions, gravy, and similar savoury ingredients. Tea at this time, as a beverage, was altogether unknown to the majority of the French people, whereas at present it is in general use, and its value as a refreshing beverage fully appreciated.”

My funny bone being tickled in several places by this story, I was left with a vague feeling of unease that there was a real Tea Soup somewhere that I may have overlooked. A little very superficial research confirmed that I had indeed omitted an English soup from my book. In truth, as you will see, ‘Tea-kettle Broth’ is not actually made from tea, the name comes from its method of production. It is a variation on the old theme of bread ‘sops’, from which we get the word ‘soup’. 

Alternative names for this preparation are ‘bread sop’, and ‘water porridge.’ As you can probably guess already, Tea-kettle Broth was a Victorian-era dish consumed predominantly by the poor and by invalids, both groups having no choice, albeit for different reasons.

Firstly, I give you a couple of descriptions:

In Devon, Somerset, Dorset, and Wilts, the breakfast commonly consists of tea-kettle broth, a milk broth or sop, or bread broth (oonsisting of bread, hot water, salt, pepper, and a little milk or a little fat of some kind, boiled together), or broth from bacon liquor, with condiments, eaten with or followed by bread and treacle, and with or without tea or coffee
The Farmer's magazine (1864)

With regard to the food of agricultural labourers, ...  They also buy some tea; and make what is called tea-kettle broth, with sliced bread put into a basin, with onions and butter, or lard, pepper, and salt, upon which the boiling water is poured out of the tea-kettle.
Annual report of the Poor Law Commissioners for England and Wales, 1846

And now, a genuine recipe from the chapter on Invalid Cookery in The English cookery book: uniting a good style with economy, (1859) 

Tea-kettle Broth.
Cut some small squares of crumb of bread into a broth basin, and some finely chopped parsley, with enough of salt to flavour it; pour over it some boiling water, softening the whole with a spoonful or two of cream or milk. Some invalids like the flavour of mint, and peas when in season; and, if this can be allowed by the medical man, the water used must have a few young peas, or pea-pods, and a leaf of mint boiled in it, before pouring it over the bread; without this addition, it is often much liked by invalids, as being so free from grease, and so clean-tasting. A little clear gravy from under the dripping pan may sometimes be added with advantage. Pepper may be used or omitted, according to the palate or the nature of the illness.

Quotation for the Day.

The first time I tried organic wheat bread, I thought I was chewing on roofing material.
Robin Williams

1 comment:

EB of SpiceDish said...

I love that story! Tea soup indeed.