Recipe at Bottom of Page, But First . . .
Defining White Soup
Anyone who has read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice should recognize White Soup as a favored recipe of the time period. According to Mr. Bingley, Lydia Bennet would be able to set the date of the Netherfield ball “once Nicholls has made white soup enough.” White Soup was (and largely still is) a recipe that confers a certain amount of status. Recipes for it are often very complex and utilize a vast and expensive array of ingredients. It is quite appropriate then that Mr. Bingley should wait to make plans for the ball only when he was certain to be able to offer his guests this sumptuous display of his bounty. Also, white foods such as flour and sugar, were historically considered status symbols because they received more processing and were thus more expensive (though not at all as healthy) as their cheaper unrefined counterparts. It is possible that the desire to convey status is, in part, what inspired this soup.
While many would identify White Soup (a.k.a Soupe a la Reine or Queen's Soup) as a creamy chicken and rice soup, its history is more complex and interesting than the soup’s simple name because it has many different incarnations. The creamy chicken soup version may come from the Dutch version called Queen’s Soup which is served at the Queen’s annual birthday celebration on April 30.
However, there are many other historical versions of this recipe that use a variety of ingredients:
- Some use a stock made from veal, mutton, or ham.
- Some recipes include rice, while others vermicelli noodles; while some have no starch added at all.
- Some recipes use milk or cream, whiles others do not.
- Many, but not all, recipes include ground almond paste.
- Sometimes, a bread cullis can be used to thicken the soup. As a matter of fact, some may claim its origins in Medieval days because many recipes then used cullis, as opposed to a French flour/butter roux thickener which did not become popular until the 17th century as documented in Francois-Pierre de La Varenne's La Cuisinier Francois, 1651.
White Soup in History
As for dating this recipe, though it may have emerged during the Medieval days, the oldest published recipe for a “white” soup I can find in English goes back only to 1615-not quite Medieval by any historian’s standards. The recipe is listed below and, as you will see, it starts with a chicken stock but is actually sweetened with dates and sweet suckets (fruits, flowers herbs, nuts, etc preserved in sugar) and additional sugar. The intermingling sweet and savory shows that this recipe is a definite hanger-on from Medieval days. I have no doubt that the recipe is far older than the 17th century and will keep looking for earlier versions.
1615: John Murrell, A new booke of Cookerie; London Cookerie. London:
To boyle Chickens in white broth.
TRusse your Chickens fit to boyle, as was before shewed in the Rabbets, cut two or three Dates in small pieces: take a piece of whole Mace: thicken your broath with Almonds: Season it with Uergis, and a little Pepper. Garnish your Dish sides with sweet Sucket & Sugar, after you haue seasoned your broth. Jn like sort you may boyle a Capon, but then you must put Marrow into your white broth. Jf you dislike Mutton-broth then boyle it by it selfe in fayre water till it turne as white as a Curd. But the French men follow the other way, and it is the better.
1651: Potage à la Reyne or Queen's Pottage
Get almonds, grind them and set them to boil with good bouillon, with a bouquet of herbs, a bit of lemon pulp, and a little breadcrumb; then season them. Take care they don't burn, stirring them frequently, and strain them. Then get your bread and simmer it in the best bouillon, that you make like this: after you have deboned some roasted partidges or capons take the bones and pound them well in a mortar. Then get some good bouillon, cook all of the bones with a few mushrooms, and strain everything [through a cloth]. Simmer your bread in this bouillon and, as it is simmering, sprinkle it with said almond bouillon and meat stock, then add in a little finely chopped partidge flesh or capon, always in such a way that it keeps simmering. Add almond bouillon until it is full. Then get the fire shovel, heat it to red hot and pass it over the top. Garnish with cockscombs, pistachios, pomegranate seeds and meat stock, then serve.
1702/1740: Edward Kidder, Receipts of Pastry and Cookery, English:
This version has many of the key elements of White Soup such as chicken, rice, and milk. However, this one includes a "forc'd chicken in the middle" which implies that the broth was ladled over a stuffed, roasted chicken.
1795: Sarah Martin, The New Experienced English Housekeeper, London:
1808: Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper, London.
1811: John Farley, The London Art of Cookery, 12th edition, London:
Also by Farley in the Same Book:
As you can see, the ingredients for Farley's White Soup and Soup à la Reine are similar, both having a veal base with added almonds and cream; however, the latter is thickened with bread and also served over fried bread.
Day 1, Step 1: Make the Stock
- 3 Pounds Veal Chops (bone-in)
- 1 Small Chicken (bone-in), Cut Up
- 1 Large Onion, Chopped
- 3 Ribs Celery, Chopped
- 2 Carrots, Chopped
- Bundle of Sweet Herbs to Taste (Parsley, Sage, Thyme)
- 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Mace or Nutmeg
- 1/2 Teaspoon White Pepper
- 12 Whole Cloves
- 1.5 Teaspoons Salt, or To Taste
|Veal and Chicken for Making Stock for White Soup|
- Remove the stock from the refrigerator. The fat will have risen to the top and solidified. Remove the fat.
- Approximately 4 Quarts Prepared Meat Stock
- 9 Ounces (4-2.25 ounce bags) Blanched Almonds, Ground
- Bundle of Herbs (parsley, sage, thyme)
- 1/2 Cup White Bread Crumbs, Finely Ground
- Juice of 1/2 Lemon
- 1/8 Teaspoon Ground Mace or Nutmeg
- Salt and White Pepper, To Taste
|Step 3 Ingredients in Stock Pot|
- Soup Stock From Step 3
- Reserved Shredded Meat From Step 1
- 1 Pint of Cream
- Salt and White Pepper, To Taste
- Small Dinner Rolls (1 per serving)
- Melted Butter (amount depends on number of rolls)
- Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Fay, The Jane Austen Cookbook (The British Museum Press, 1995)
- Pen Vogler, Dinner with Mr. Darcy (London, 2013)
- Kim Wilson, Tea with Jane Austen (London, 2011)
- Various Primary Sources, Listed Above