The most nourishing soup

A pot of Rumford’s Soup from the basic recipe: pearl barley and dried peas, water, salt, some vinegar (no potatoes). Thanks to Gestumblindi.
Found - an 'extract' from a book about food with a recipe for pearl barley soup. This piece appears in various forms throughout the 19th century but derives from work with the poor by Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford)  when he was army minister in Bavaria in the 1790s. Rumford was an American ennobled by the courts of Europe because of his pioneer discoveries in cooking.The soup is sometimes known as Rumford's Soup. He wrote:

The difference in the apparent goodness, or the palatableness, and apparent nutritiousness of the same kinds of food, when prepared or cooked in different ways struck me very forcibly and I constantly found that the richness or quality of a soup depended more upon a proper choice of the ingredients and a proper management of the fire in the combination of those ingredients, than upon the quantity of solid nutritious matter employed ;— much more upon the art and skill of the cook, than upon the amount of the sums laid out in the market.

I found, likewise, that the nutritiousness of a soup, or its power of satisfying hunger, and affording nourishment, appeared always to be in proportion to its apparent richness or palatableness. But what surprised me not a little, was a discovery of the very small quantity of solid food, which, when properly prepared, will suffice to satisfy hunger, and support life and health ; and the very trifling expense at which the stoutest and most laborious man may, in any country, be fed.

After an experience of more than five years in feeding the poor at Munich, during which time every experiment was made that could be devised, not only with regard to the choice of the articles used as food, but also in respect to their different combinations and proportions ; and to the various ways in which they could be prepared or cooked ; it was found that the cheapest, most savoury, and most nourishing food that could be provided, was a soup composed of pearl- barley, peas, potatoes, cuttings of fine wheaten bread, vinegar,—salt and water in certain proportions.

The method of preparing this soup is as follows: the water and the pearl barley are first put together into the boiler and made to boil; the peas are then added, and the boiling is continued over a gentle fire about two hours; — the potatoes are then added, (having been previously peeled with a knife, or having been boiled, in order to their being more easily deprived of their skins,) and the boiling is continued for about one hour more, during which time the contents of the boiler are frequently stirred about with a large wooden spoon or ladle, in order to destroy the texture of the potatoes, and to reduce the soup into one uniform mass. When this is done, the vinegar and salt are added ; and last of all, at the moment it is to be served up, the cuttings of bread.

The soup should never be suffered to boil, or even to stand long before it is served up, after the cuttings of bread are put to it. It will, indeed, for reasons which will hereafter be explained, be best never to put the cuttings of bread into the boiler at all,but, as is always done at Munich, to put them into the tubs in which the soup is carried from the kitchen into the dining hall; pouring the soup hot from the boiler upon them, and stirring the whole well together with the iron ladles used for measuring out the soup for the poor in the hall.

It is of more importance than can well be imagined, that this bread, which is mixed with the soup, should not be boiled. It is likewise of use that it should be cut as fine or thin as possible ; and if it be dry and hard it will be so much the better. The bread we use at Munich is what is called semel bread, being small loaves, weighing from two to three ounces ; and as we receive this bread in donations from the bakers, it is commonly dry and hard, being that which, not being sold in time, remains on hand, and becomes stale and unsalable ; and we have found by experience that this hard and stale bread answers for our purpose much better than any other, for it renders mastication necessary ; and mastication seems very powerfully to assist in promoting digestion ; it likewise prolongs the duration of the enjoyment of eating, a matter of very great importance indeed, and which has not hitherto been sufficiently attended to.

The quantity of this soup furnished to each person, at each meal, or one portion of it, (the cuttings of bread included,) is just one Bavarian pound in weight-equal to about nineteen ounces and nine-tenths avoirdupois. Now, to those who know that a full pint of soup weighs no more than about sixteen ounces avoirdupois, it will not, perhaps, at the first view, appear very extraordinary that a portion weighing near twenty ounces, and consequently making near one pint and a quarter of this rich, strong, savoury soup should be found sufficient to satisfy the hunger of a grown person ; but when the matter is examined narrowly, and properly analyzed, and it is found that the whole quantity of solid food which enters into the composition of one of these portions of soup does not amount to quite six ounces, it will then appear to be almost impossible that this allowance should be sufficient.

That it is quite sufficient, however, to make a good meal for a strong healthy person, has been abundantly proved by long experience. I have even found that a soup composed of nearly the same ingredients, except the potatoes, but in different proportions, was sufficiently nutritive, and very palatable, in which only about four ounces and three quarters of solid food entered into the composition of a portion weighing twenty ounces.

But this will not appear incredible to those who know that one single spoonful of salope weighing less thau one quarter of an ounce put into a pint of boiling water, forms the thickest and most nourishing soup that can be taken, and that the quantity of solid matter which enters into the composition of another very nutritive food, hartshorn jelly, is not much more considerable.

The barley in my soup seems to act much the same part as the salope in this famous restorative ; and no substitute that I could ever find for it, among all the variety of corn and pulse of the growth of Europe, ever produced half the effect ; that is to say, half the nourishment at the same expense. Barley may therefore be considered as the rice of Great Britain. It requires, it is true, a great deal of boiling ; but, when it is properly managed, it thickens a vast quantity of water, and, as 1 suppose, prepares it for decomposition. It also gives the soup into which it enters as an ingredient a degree of richness which nothing else can give. It has little or no taste in itself, but when mixed with other ingredients which are savoury, it renders them peculiarly grateful to the palate. It is a maxim as ancient, I believe, as the time of Hippocrates, that " whatever pleases the palate, nourishes ;" and I have often had reason to think it perfectly just. Could it be clearly ascertained and demonstrated, it would tend to place cookery in a much more respectable situation among the arts than it now holds.

That the manner in which food is prepared is a matter of real importance, and that the water used in that process acts a much more important part than has hitherto been generally imagined, is, I think, quite evident ; for it seems to me to be impossible, upon any other supposition to account for the appearances. If the very small quantity of solid food which enters into the composition of a portion of some very nutritive soup were to be prepared differently, and taken under some other form — that of bread, for instance, so far from being sufficient to satisfy hunger and afford a comfortable and nutritive meal, a person would absolutely starve upon such a slender allowance; and no great relief would be derived from drinking crude water to fill up the void in the stomach.

This recipe and this piece turns up in various forms in books and periodicals of the late 18th. He goes on to talk of soaking the barley overnight and emphasises that the boiling should be as gentle as possible. In some version there is no mention of Germany or even the poor and it is stated that soldiers, always very poorly paid, could live and thrive on this soup. He also talks of improvements- the addition of small quantities of meat, chopped root vegetables, dumplings and even salt fish…Occasionally it is suggested that the bread (always added at the last moment) can be fried in oil. The tending of the fire, then such an important part of cookery, is now hardly a problem...

2 thoughts on “The most nourishing soup

  1. R.M.Healey

    It is interesting that Mr Rumford should mention salope. This' restorative', which features most famously in Charles Lamb's essay ' In Praise of Chimney Sweepers' , was made from dried and powdered orchis bulbs and today a powder under the name of salep can still be bought at selected Iranian /Turkish grocers. In Lamb's time, however, sassafras was substituted for the expensive bulbs, mainly because it gave the beverage named saloop more flavour than the real salep possessed.

  2. admin Post author

    Thanks Robin. Impressive knowledge of matters salopian. All I could find was the word as an insult– Salope : n.f. Se dit d'une femme méprisable, garce, sans scrupules, aux moeurs corrompus et prête à tout pour réussir etc., As for Rumford's soup I would be tempted to use a bit of stock! N


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