I’ve had a fascination with white soup after reading Jane Austen’s novels. She makes mention of it several times in describing dinner parties attended by her characters. Soup was usually served in the first course of the meal and white soup is mentioned in particular in Pride and Prejudice by Mr. Bingley as he fixes a date for the Netherfield ball, saying, “It is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough, I shall send round my cards.” It’s also mentioned in the 2011 book, “Death Comes to Pemberly”, a very good Pride and Prejudice sequel by P.D. James.
I have learned that there are vast differences in the actual makeup of white soup, depending on the cook. I’ve seen four recipes so far-each consists of a water base and contain celery and onions. Some also throw in a little meat, anchovies, almonds, and egg yolks! I chose this version for several reasons-it’s easy to make, I had all the ingredients and, like my Regency counterparts, I wanted to serve it as a first course of a meal so I did not want the inclusion of meat. And I dislike anchovies!
The original version of this recipe is as follows:
Put in a clean sauce pan two or three quarts of water, the crum of a two penny loaf with a bundle of herbs, some whole pepper, two or three cloves, an onion or two cut across and a little salt: let it boil covered till it is quite smooth; take celery, endive and lettuce only the white parts, cut them in pieces, not too small and boil them till they are very tender, strain your soup off into a clean stew pan; put your herbs in, with a good piece of butter stirred in it till the butter is melted, and let it boil for some time till it is very smooth. If any scum arises, take it off very clean: soak a small French roll, nicely rasped, in some of the soup, put it in the middle of the dish, pour in your soup and sent it to table.
I will warn you that I found the soup very bland. I would suggest replacing the water with chicken or beef stock, at least in part, to add flavor. Also, feel free to leave out the cloves-they add an interesting taste to the broth but unless you’re an adventurous foodie, you will probably like this better without them. Finally, you can use any combination of greens in place of the endive and lettuce. For my version, I used a whole head of lettuce but I think spinach would also be very tasty.
• 3 quarts water (1 quart water, 2 quarts chicken or beef stock)
• 2 cups bread crumbs
• ¼ cup chopped-parsley, sage, oregano, thyme and basil
• 1 tsp black peppercorns
• 3 whole cloves
• 2 medium onions, peeled and halved
• 1 tsp salt
• 4 stalks celery, cut crosswise into 1 inch pieces
• 2 heads endive, coarsely chopped
• ½ head lettuce, coarsely chopped
• 3 tbsp butter
In a stock pot, bring the water (or stock) along with the bread crumbs, herbs, peppercorns, cloves, onions and salt to a boil.
Reduce the heat to medium low; cover , and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the soup through a fine strainer.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the celery and boil 5 minutes.
Add the endive and lettuce and boil till tender, about 5 minutes more.
Drain the vegetables and add them to the strained bread broth. Add the butter and stir until the butter is melted.
Pour the soup into bowls. Serve hot. Feel free to garnish with a piece of toasted French bread or a hard French roll, placed in the middle of each bowl.