Chapter 1: Soups – Completed!

All 24 of the recipes within the Soup chapter are now complete and can join Stuffings in the done pile! I must say that many of them are but vague memories; most of them being cooked at the start of the project when I was a poor PhD student. All of the recipes are below in the order given in English Food with their score.

It was quite a mixed bag of recipes, though none were complete disasters or particularly horrible, with the lowest score being a quite good 4.5/10. Though I notice I have been rather generous in my scoring at the start! The average score for this chapter is a pretty decent 6.9, two whole points lower than the Stuffingssection.
The first recipe I cooked for the blog: Finnan Haddock Soup

More importantly, there were some real stars that have become part of my regular repertoire, both at home and for the business, such as Green Pea Soup, June Pea Soup, Vegetable Soup, Cawl and Oyster (or Mussel) Soup.

So what have I learnt about English soups now that I have cooked so many? Well the main thing is that we love it – there are so many different kinds from simple hearty ones that are intended to be a complete meal such as Cawl or Mutton and Leek Broth to light and seasonal ones, delicious as a starter or light lunch like Tomato Soup and June Pea Soup. The final recipe to be cooked in the book – English Hare Soup – is just a single example of the very rich and darkly opulent soups you would have expected to be served in grander houses.
Tomato Soup

English soups are diverse and delicious, but one thing I do notice is that there are no complex soups that are loved, whose recipes are discussed and argued over between families and within households like the French Pot-au-Feu, Bouillabaisse and Cassoulet.

Soups and stews have evolved greatly from the few vegetables, herbs, cereals and scraps of meat and bone we simmered together in times past into an amazing array of delights, but the main thing I have learnt comes straight from those early pottage-makers – how to improvise with whatever you have to produce something nourishing and delicious.

#410 English Hare Soup

So here we are at the final recipe for the Soupchapter, ending on a blinder that couldn’t be more English, rich with claret and spiced with mace and Cayenne pepper.

I don’t really know why it took me so long to try this one; though rarely found in abundance, hare is not exactly difficult to find in season. Maybe I just kept missing the boat every year. The hare I used in this recipe I picked up from the excellent Northwest Game. So it’s not just the last souprecipe, but the last hare recipe too.

If you want to know more about hares have a look at this previous post.

This recipe comes from Antonin Carême, the legendary French chef, who worked himself from homeless child to probably the most influential cook ever. A genius patissier, he first attracted attention making elaborate edible sculptures to sit in the window of the patisserie. After some proper training he set down working on sauces, coming up with the classification of the four mother sauces, the base of all sauces in French cookery; a system still used to today. He spent quite some time working in Britain and was briefly chef to the Prince Regent. He’s appeared before on the blog, on recipe #317 Skuets, a dish comprised of sweetbreads, bacon and mushrooms cooked on a skewer, served with bread sauce.

To make the soup, heat 3 ounces of clarified butter in a flameproof casserole or large saucepan and fry until brown either a jointed young hare or the head and forequarters of an older, tougher hare. As it fries, toss in 4 ounces of diced unsmoked bacon or salt belly of pork

Once everything is a delicious brown, add a heaped tablespoon of plain flour, stir to cover the meat before add ½ bottle of red wine or claret and 1 ¾ pints of beef stock or consommé. On a medium heat, let the contents come to a bare simmer. As you wait for that to happen, pop in a large onion studded with a clove, a good pinch of Cayenne pepper, and ½ teaspoon each of ground mace and black pepper. Also toss in a decent bouquet garni, embellished with extra springs of parsley, rosemary and marjoram.

Simmer everything together very gently until the meat is tender and comes away from the bone easily. This can be anywhere between 1 ½ to 3 hours, depending on the vintage of the hare. Pass the soup through a strainer and fish out the joints, stripping the meat from the bone and cutting it into neat pieces. Salvage any pieces of the bacon and salt pork too. ‘Discard the remaining debris’, says Jane.

Return the strained soup to a cleaned pan, season with salt, and add 8 ounces of small mushrooms. Let them simmer for a few minutes before adding the hare meat and cured pork. If you like, add a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly.

#410 English Hare Soup. I think if I had cooked this soup at the beginning of this project, I wouldn’t have been able to take the gaminess of this dish. However, after eating my through several game recipes and species, I am a real convert to it and couldn’t recommend this soup highly enough (except perhaps to the uninitiated). It was beautifully rich – too rich as a starter – and I ate it over several days, where it became more and more delicious with every reheating. It’s a style of cooking game that has fallen out of favour recently, where game appears in more familiar settings such as burgers or warm salads. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, as it introduces a new generation of people to the wonders of game. Anyway, I digress. A great soup for a great evening in front of a roaring fire. 9/10.

#333 Lamb’s Head and Barley, with Brain Sauce

My-oh-my! Where do I start with this one!? It is quite possible the most infamous recipe in the whole book. I must say it didn’t seem as daunting as it did when I first spotted it after I had decided to cook the whole book.
Lamb’s head was once rather popular – in particular during the nineteenth century. According to Grigson, Queen Victoria’s chef was a fan. Why has it that in the last few decades it has just simply disappeared from our food culture? It did hang on in Northern England and Scotland and it was one of Jane Grigson’s favourite meals and she emphasises that it is not “ungenteel…or even savage food”.
Still Life with Sheep’s Head
by Francisco de Goya (c.1808-12)

Mrs Beeton gives a recipe for leek soup that requires a sheep’s head and also describes how to “dress a sheep’s head” with a very similar recipe to Jane’s, though the barley is replaced with oats (as it is in the Scottish fashion). And if lamb’s head with brain sauce makes your stomach turn, I found a recipe in Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book The Experienced English Housekeeper for lamb’s head and purtenances, which, to you and I, are the innards. Calf’s head was also very popular; it was the main ingredient in mock turtle soup, for example. So the heads of sheep, calf and, of course, wild boar have been enjoyed for centuries in pretty well-to-do houses, so they can’t be that bad, can they..?

If you are thinking of cooking this receipt, first of all you need to find somewhere that’ll sell you a lamb’s head. I managed to get hold of one opportunistically at Global Foods in St Louis. There they were, just piled up in the freezer aisle. It is very important that you find an organic or halal butcher, then you can be sure that the animal was fed only what lambs should. The prion that causes scrapie is a concern with lamb that comes from the high-intensive farms, or at least it was. You also need to find some guests willing to eat it. Three brave souls – Anna, Vincent and Michelle – came to certainly the most unusual Sunday dinner I’ve ever had…

“Ask the butcher to clean and split the head…” starts Jane with this one. I wasn’t lucky enough to have a butcher on hand so I had to do this myself with a meat cleaver and a hammer. It took a fair few whacks and cracks before it split, but I got there in the end. I felt a little like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Carefully remove the brain and keep it one side, whilst you soak the head in salted water for an hour before rinsing it and placing it in a pot.
Pour enough water to cover and bring to the boil slowly, skimming any grey scum that rises as you go. Now add the following: a bouquet garni that includes a good sprig of winter savory (which was the most difficult ingredient to find!); an onion studded with 3 cloves; 2 carrots and a parsnip, both peeled and halved, a small peeled turnip, a trimmed and cleaned leek, 8 ounces of pearl barley and a good seasoning of salt and pepper – at least a tablespoon of salt is required I would say. Let the broth tick away slowly on a bare simmer for 1 ½ hours.

Whilst the broth bubbles, prepare the brain ready for the sauce. Begin by carefully removing the loose membranous net of blood vessels and placing the brain in salted water for 30 minutes. Remove it from its brine onto a square of muslin and tie it up. Place the brain in with the head and let it poach for 10 minutes. The brain will now be cooked and become firm, unwrap it and chop the brain.
It is quite homogenous with no gristly bits, so don’t worry. Now make a simple béchamel sauce by melting an ounce of butter in a saucepan. When it bubbles, stir in an ounce of flour and cook for two minutes before gradually whisking in ¼ pint of milk. Thin the sauce to an appropriate consistency with some lamb stock from the pot and let it simmer for at least 10 minutes, adding more stock if it gets too thick. Stir in the chopped brain and some parsley if you wish. Season and add a squeeze of lemon juice.

When the head is cooked, remove it from the pot and start having a good rummage around to find the meaty bits. I couldn’t find very much to be honest. There were two cheeks containing some good moist meat and the tongue of course. Apart from that, it was slim pickings. I thought perhaps there might be some edible palate as I knew ox palate was popular in the eighteenth century. The only other place I found some was at the base where head meets neck. Anyway, serve up what meat you can extract on a plate or bowl and surround with some of the barley along with some rolled grilled rashers of bacon and some lemon quarters and pour the sauce into a sauceboat.

The stock makes “a marvellous soup”. If you want to be in the true peasant style, serve it as the starter. Jane recommends saving it for another meal; “[l]amb soup, then lamb’s head, is too much of a good thing.” I have five tubs of it in my freezer…

#333 Lamb’s Head and Barley, with Brain Sauce. Making this is in no way as macabre as you might expect, except for the part with the cleaver and hammer that is. There was very little meat, but what there was tasted delicious and was very tender and the barley broth was hearty. The brain sauce was also good – the brain itself was tender with a certain firmness that was quite appealing and had a very mild kidney or liver flavour. I think it could have done with a touch of Cayenne pepper. So overall, not bad at all, though the amount of meat was disappointing. The soup left over is delicious but needs a touch of sugar, as lamb and mutton broths often do… 6.5/10.

#327 Turkey and Hazelnut Soup

There doesn’t seem to be any history to speak of with this recipe, it seems it is just a way to use up the turkey carcass after Christmas or Thanksgiving, perhaps conceived by Jane Grigson herself. In my case, it was a way of using the huge amount of turkey stock I had in the freezer from the boiled turkey recipe. We don’t like waste here in Grigson Towers, so any way of putting any leftovers such as cooking liquors and carcasses are well-received.
It does use some nice wintertime ingredients: hazelnuts are usually in good supply along with the brazils, walnuts and almonds; there’s the fine herb chervil which I have tried and failed to grow myself. They’re a hardy plant and good for growing in autumn and winter. Unless it is me attempting cultivation. It is obviously in season now as I have seen them twice for sale over the last months or so.

This recipe gives calls for raw turkey breast, though some shredded left over leg meat from the roast would do perfectly as a substitute. Likewise, if hazelnuts are not to hand you can use chopped toasted almonds or chestnuts.
This recipe is for 4 to 6 people.

Bring 1 ½ pints of turkey stock to a boil with 8 ounces of raw minced turkey breast. Let it simmer for 3 or 4 minutes. Liquidise the soup and pass it through a sieve back into the pan after you have rinsed it. Jane does not mention what to do with all that turkey breast that won’t pass through the sieve – and there was plenty of it. It seemed a waste so I put some back in as it was still nice and tender.

Take a large egg yolk and 4 ounces of cream (weight, not volume) and whisk them together before adding a ladleful of hot soup to it. Pour in the stock mixture into the pan and stir over a medium heat until the soup thickens. Don’t let the soup boil, unless you want scrambled egg in it. Take the soup off the heat and add some chopped, fresh chervil (dried is allowed if you can’t get fresh), ½ a teaspoon of paprika, 3 ounces of chopped grilled or roasted hazelnuts and 2 ounces of butter. Lastly, season with salt and black pepper.
#327 Turkey and Hazelnut Soup. This soup was okay; inoffensive and homely, but rather bland. I imagine that I would like it if I were convalescing after a bout of the ‘flu. Not a bad soup, but certainly not an amazing one either. Next time I have some turkey stock, I shall make a risotto. 5.5/10

#316 Oyster or Mussel Soup

There is no introduction to this recipe by Grigson in English Food. I am never sure whether Jane did this because she didn’t want to, or whether she thought she didn’t need to. It turns out the recipe goes back quite a bit with a huge amount of similar recipes cropping up during the nineteenth century, including examples from stalwarts such as Eliza Acton (1845), Alexis Soyer (1850) and Elizabeth Raffald (1769). Recipes also crop up in their droves in American cook books of the nineteenth century.

Oysters were hugely popular in British cuisine up until the early nineteenth century, and were at one point considered poor-man’s food, until the seas of Britain became polluted from the Industrial Revolution. These days, they are rather more expensive, though dropping in price now that our seas are much cleaner than they used to be. Farming helps keep the price of the oyster down and there are several successful farms around the UK now. The oyster farm is by no means a recent invention – the Gauls in the 7th century BC farmed them and sold them as far afield as Rome. It went a bit tits-up however when they were completely trounced by the Barbarians.
I chose to use oysters here, but you can use mussels for this recipe instead. There are several pluses to using them: if you are on a budget, they are good and cheap; and also it is easy to get the meat from them. If I were in England, I would probably go for mussels simply for the reason that shucking oysters is one major pain in the arse. However, here in America where seafood is very popular and you can walk into your local supermarket and buy pre-shucked fresh oysters in their own liquor from the fish section. Now that I know this, expect to see a lot more recipes that use oysters in the blog. Mussel farming, like oyster farming, is a main contributor to the reason they are cheap; they can be grown quickly and in great numbers on ‘parks’ made by hanging ropes down into the sea.
Eating seafood such as like oysters and mussels before starting this project would have filled me with dread – our family never ate things like this – but now they fill me with joy. I just love the little beasties.
This recipe is for 6 people (or 4 greedy ones).
Start off with your appropriate seafood: according to the book you’ll need either 2 dozen oysters or 2 pounds of mussels. The number of oysters you need will actually depend on the species of oyster available – 2 dozen if native oysters, or one dozen if the large Pacific or Atlantic species. Shuck the oysters, or alternatively leave them flat-side up in the freezer for a while until they open up for you. Either way, make sure you keep any oyster liquor. If you are using one of the large species, cut each one into two or three pieces.
If the mussel is your bivalve of choice, then give them a good scrub and pull out their beards should they have any. Tap each one: if the shells close, your mussel be alive and well, if it remains open, your mussel be dead, so discard it. Chuck them in a large pan, cover, and place over a high heat. After a few minutes, give them a shake and see if the mussels have opened. If they have they are cooked. Remove the meat from them and place them in sieve over a bowl to collect the juices. Don’t forget to keep any juices from the bottom of the cooking pan too.
Now the shellfish is prepared, you can get on with making the soup. Finely chop 4 shallots and soften them in 2 ounces of butter. Once golden, stir in two tablespoons of flour and let it cook for a minute or two. Find yourself a whisk and mix in the reserved juices and then 1 ¼ pints of light beef stock or veal stock. Season with sea salt, black pepper, Cayenne pepper and nutmeg. Cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or so. When you are ready to serve, add the oysters or mussels plus ¼ pint of double cream and some chopped parsley. Bring it up to a boil, turn off the heat and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve immediately.
#316 Oyster or Mussel Soup. This was a fantastic soup! The combination of rich creamy stock and fresh iodine-scented oysters was magic. One of the best soups I’ve done – and really easy too. If you’re doing a dinner party and you want to impress without breaking your back, I would definitely have a go at this. I shall try it again soon but with mussels and see if they are as good as the oysters. 9/10.

#223 Marion Jones’s Green Fish Soup

Here’s a relatively straight-forward recipe – there’s not many left to attempt that are quick and easy, everything else is either bizarre, labour-intensive or both. Not be put off by the name – there are no green fish in it – it is just white fish, the green colour coming from broccoli. FYI: Marion Jones does/did co-own a restaurant in Malvern; I know nothing else about her. She must’ve been a mate of Jane’s.

Begin by sweating a sliced medium onion and a small sliced leek in an ounce of butter. Be careful not to let it colour. When soft, add an ounce of flour and stir for a few minutes so that the flour cooks out a little. Pour in 1 ¾ of fish stock that has been flavoured with nutmeg and fennel (crush a few fennel seeds up and grate some nutmeg in, if using fish stock cubes) and simmer for 10 minutes, then add a pound of skinned white fish fillets – cod, haddock, whiting, hake, etc. – and simmer for a further minute. Allow to cool a little before blending it. While the stock cooks, trim 13 ounces of broccoli – you can use sprouting broccoli or the more readily available calabrese broccoli – and boil in salted water until just tender. As soon as they are cooked, drain them and refresh them in cold water to give them a vivid green colour. Make sure you reserve the cooking water. Add the cooked broccoli and blend again, thinning the soup with the reserved cooking liquor. If you want to be posh, pass it through a sieve. Season with salt and pepper, and stir through some cream if you like.


#223 Marion Jones’s Green Fish Soup. This was an okay recipe, but nothing to shout about. It tasted a bit like those Findus boil in the bag cod in parsley sauce from 1970s and 80s. Remember them? The white fish and broccoli combination work well as they have a certain complementary sweetness. I wouldn’t make it again, but I would eat it if someone else cooked it for me 5/10.

#194 Almond Soup (White Soup)

Yes, another soup…

This recipe is the very first one that appears in English Food. Although it may seem rather odd nowadays, it is one of the most historical recipes there is. Almond soup, or almond milk as it was originally called goes right back to the Middle Ages. It was made with almonds, onions, wine and spices. More recently, it diverged into two completely separate dishes: almond soup and blancmange.

Griggers reckons that one of the reasons (apart from it tasting good) that it’s remained popular is because the ingredients are easy to come by; most being found about the house. Well, it is popular no longer – I’d heard of it, but only vaguely. Not all the ingredients are easy to come by these days either – the main reason I’ve only got round to making this now is that I managed to finally get hold of the veal knuckle required for the stock.

I always really enjoy making these sorts of recipes in the book – I don’t even mind if they’re not that nice – it’s just interesting cooking and tasting these old, old recipes. I’ve said it before, but it is great that such books like English Food exist, it’s also great to see that many of these unfashionably historical recipes are tasty and interesting. Does this one fit into that category though..?


To make the soup, you need to start the day before and get on with the task of stock-making. Start off by placing a small gammon hock (I made one myself in the brine tub!) and a good meaty veal knuckle that has been cut into three pieces in a large pan or stockpot. Add four pints of cold water and slowly bring to the boil; the slower you do this, the clearer the stock will be. When it does come to the boil, skim away any scum and add a quartered onion, a quartered carrot, four chopped celery sticks, a teaspoon of lightly-crushed peppercorns, two blades of mace, a bay leaf and a tablespoon – no, I didn’t misread the book, tablespoon – of salt. Bring back to the boil and then turn the heat right down so that the stock simmers gently away for four hours. Strain and chill overnight and skim the fat off the top. Bring back to the boil and reduce the stock until there is around 2 ½ pints remaining. Alternatively, if you simply cannot be arsed with all of that, use a light beef stock!

For the soup, place 2 ounces of blanched almonds and an ounce of white bread (crusts removed) into a blender along with a couple of ladlefuls of stock and liquidise the lot. Push the gloop through a sieve into the reduced stock. Turn the heat off under the pan. Next, beat an egg yolk into ¼ each of double cream and soured cream and whisk it into the soup, reheat, making sure the stock is not boiling, to prevent the egg from cooking and curdling. Now season with white pepper, salt (!), Cayenne pepper and lemon juice. Serve with fried croutons or fried almonds.

#194 Almond Soup (White Soup). Certainly not one for those on a low salt or low fat diet. It was very salty and rich. I assume that the tablespoon of salt listed in the ingredients is a typo since a ham hock is also used for the stock. I’m not convinced that I actually liked this soup, it was certainly nicer the next day when the flavours had time to develop. It’s certainly a posh soup, but I think it could’ve been improved by using a less salty stock. Perhaps after all this time-biding, it would have been better if I’d simply used a light beef stock as suggested in the recipe. 4.5/10.