An anti-miserabilist approach to historical cooking

Tag: Soup (page 1 of 1)

Soyer’s Oxtail Soup


Alexis Soyer

Alexis Soyer, frontispiece engraving from A Shilling Cookery for the People, 1855, public domain.

A few years ago, I read Relish: The Extraordinary Life of Alexis Soyer, Victorian Celebrity Chef by Ruth Cowen, and now Alexis Soyer seems to pop up everywhere I turn. He was an amazing man, one of the first celebrity chefs (complete with his own line of cookbooks and product endorsements) but also an inventor and entrepreneur. Although in his restaurant he mostly cooked for the wealthy and famous he was also involved in philanthropic projects including setting up soup kitchens in Ireland during the Great Famine and working with Florence Nightingale to reform army cooking during the Crimean War.

Soyer's Kitchen at Scutari Barracks

Alexis Soyer’s Barrack Hospital kitchens in Scutari, Turkey during the Crimean War. Wood engraving. Licensed by the Wellcome Collection under CC BY.

Soyer also produced several cookbooks with recipes for cheap, simple and nutritious recipes that poor people could make at home, or that charities or institutions could make in bulk. These included Soyer’s Charitable Cookery; Or, the Poor Man’s Regenerator Dedicated to the Benevolent, for the Benefit of the Labouring, and Poor Classes of the United Kingdom (c.1847) and A Shilling Cookery for the People: Embracing an Entirely New System of Plain Cookery and Domestic Economy (1855). While the tone of his writing is self-aggrandising and patronising, Soyer evidently put a great deal of effort into the recipes and considered the equipment that people had, the ingredients they could afford, and their experience with cooking.

The Recipe

The first chapter in the A Shilling Cookery for the People contains 37 recipes for soups, stocks and gravies ranging from the extremely simple rice soup (rice boiled in broth) to the aspirational ‘Good White Mock Turtle Soup’. Needing only a heat source and a pot, these soups were adaptable to both older styles of fireplace cookery and the modern stoves. The recipe that I decided to make ‘Ox Tail Soup in Baking Pan’ would have required an oven, but there is another very similar version available for making it on the stove.

Ox Tail Soup in Baking Pan – Divide two ox tails, wash them well in cold water, then put them in the pan, with three teaspoonfuls of salt, one of pepper, four cloves, a little thyme, if handy, two good onions; add three quarts of water, two tablespoons of colouring; put on the cover, place it in a moderate oven for three hours to simmer, take off the fat, which save for use, and serve. Half a pound of any vegetable, mixed or not, cut in dice, can be added with advantage.[1]

The recipe for colouring is given later in the book:

A Common Batter – Put in a basin six good tablespoonfuls of flour, which dilute very slowly with one pint of milk, add one spoonful of salt, quarter that of pepper, beat an egg well in it, if used for toad-in-the-hole. A little parsley, chopped onions, or a little spice, makes an agreeable change; it will also make nice puddings, if baked alone, or under a joint in a well-greased tin.[2]

This recipe is pretty straightforward. The oxtails I bought were already cut up but if you’re buying a whole oxtail then ask your butcher to section it for you or you can do it yourself by cutting in between the caudal vertebrae (The Seasoned Cook has a video of how to do this). The benefit of using oxtail is that it’s very cheap, and it tastes delicious if you give it a long, slow cooking. Once your oxtails are ready, just stick everything in a lidded casserole dish, or a baking dish covered with foil and let it simmer for three hours. For the vegetables, I used leek, turnips and carrots but you could also use potatoes, pumpkin, peas, swedes, parsnips or celery.

[1] Soyer, A Shilling Cookery for the People, 16.

[2] Soyer, 164.


Oxtail Soup made from Alexis Soyer's 1855 recipe

The Redaction

Baked Oxtail Soup

1 tbsp flour

1/6 cup milk

Parsley, chopped (optional)

2 oxtails, sectioned


3 tsp salt, plus additional for paste

1 tsp pepper, plus additional for paste

4 cloves

1 onion, chopped

1 leek, chopped

2 turnips, diced

2 small carrots, diced

3 litres water

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Whisk together the flour, milk, and parsley (if using) until it forms as smooth paste and season with the additional salt and pepper.
  2. Place all of the other ingredients in a casserole dish or a baking tray. Stir in the flour and milk paste. Cover with a lid, or with aluminium foil.
  3. Put the dish in the oven and leave to simmer for 3 hours. Skim off any excess fat. Serve hot with crusty bread or buttered toast.

Oxtail Soup made from Alexis Soyer's 1855 recipe


Cowen, Ruth. Relish: The Extraordinary Life of Alexis Soyer, Victorian Celebrity Chef. London: Phoenix, 2008.

Soyer, Alexis. The Gastronomic Regenerator: A Simplified and Entirely New System of Cookery; with Nearly Two Thousand Practical Receipts, Suited to the Income of All Classes. London: Simpkin, Marshall, & Company, 1846.

Soyer, Alexis. Soyer’s Charitable Cookery; or, The Poor Man’s Regenerator. 1847. Reprint, London: Simpkin Marshall & Company, 1884.

Soyer, Alexis. A Shilling Cookery for the People: Embracing an Entirely New System of Plain Cookery

and Domestic Economy. London: G. Routledge & Company, 1855.


Last Lunch on the Titanic

Last year whilst in Belfast I visited the Titanic Quarter. Not many people realise it but Belfast claims the honour of having built the Titanic, and at the heart of the recently rejuvenated docks like Titanic Belfast. Part museum, part artwork, part monument to Belfast’s working class history, it’s a great way to pass a few drizzly hours in the city.

Titanic Luncheon Menu

Included in the exhibition is a remarkable object, a menu from the last lunch served on the Titanic. The 1st Class menu was taken from the sinking ship in the handbag of one Mrs. Dodge who escaped in a lifeboat with her son. Her husband also found a spot in a lifeboat, thanks to the steward Frederic Ray whose compliments can be found on the back of the menu.


The luncheon menu contains some 40 dishes for diners to choose from, and unfortunately making all of them was a bit beyond my budget. Instead I made a small selection which you can see in my own menu below.

 IMG_3875Titanic Luncheon Menu by Turnspit and Table


The Recipes


All the recipes are from American cookbooks and I tried to keep them as close chronologically as I could.


Cockie Leekie from ‘Mrs Rorer’s New Cook Book’ 1902


“1 fowl

2 quarts of water

1/2 pound of prunes

Yolks of two eggs

1 pound of beef marrow bones

2 dozen leeks

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoonful of salt

1 saltspoonful of pepper


Purchase the marrow bone from the round; have the butcher saw it into two-inch lengths, making four bones. Draw and truss the fowl; put it into a soup kettle; cover with cold water, bring to boiling point and skim. Add the marrow bones, the bay leaf and pepper;simmer gently for one hour. Add the leeks, neatly trimmed; simmer one hour longer. Add the prunes which have been soaked in water over night, and the salt; bring again to boiling point, and it is ready to serve. Remove the strings from the chicken, dish it in the centre of a large platter, put the prunes around, garnish the edge of the dish with carefully boiled rice, the marrow bones, and the leeks. Strain the soup into a tureen over the well beaten yolks of the eggs, and serve with squares of toasted bread. Serve egg sauce with the chicken. This dish takes the place of both meat and soup.”


Notes – I used a lot more water than the two quarts called for, I basically covered the chicken. I also used a lot fewer leeks, only 2 instead of the 2 dozen called for in the recipe. 10 mins before serving I spooned in the dumpling mixture and put the lid on to let them cook. To serve you pour the hot soup over the beaten eggs, forming strings of egg in the soup. I cut pieces of toast into small squares and floated them in the soup. I then served the chicken itself with the second course.

Cockie Leekie Soup

Dumplings from ‘Mrs Rorer’s New Cook Book’ 1902

“Put into a bowl one pint of flour with which you have sifted a rounding teaspoonful of baking powder and a half teaspoonful of salt; add about two-thirds of a cup of milk. Take the bowl and a teaspoon to the side of the fire and drop the mixture all over the top of the stew by teaspoonfuls. Cover the saucepan and cook slowly for ten minutes without lifting the lid. Dish by putting the dumplings around the edge of the platter; the stew in the centre, straining over the sauce; dust with a little chopped parsley, and send at once to the table.

Notes – I dropped large teaspoonfuls into the soup about 10 mins before serving and then served them with the boiled chicken. To be honest I didn’t like the mushy texture and lack of flavour.”

Cockie Leekie Chicken

Chicken à la Maryland from ‘The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book’ 1896


Maryland Chicken

“Dress, clean, and cut up two chickens. Sprinkle with salt and pepper,dip in flour, egg, and crumbs, place in a well-greased dripping-pan, and bake twenty minutes in a hot oven, basting after first five minutes of cooking with one-third cup melted butter. Arrange on platter and pour over two cups Cream Sauce.”


Cream sauce recipe is available here.


Notes- This was one of the lovely surprises of the evening. Juicy chicken with a crispy shell it was easy to make and really delicious. I also really liked it served with the cream sauce.

Chicken a la Maryland

Custard Pudding from ‘The Washington Women’s Cookbook’ 1909 (pg 66)

“One pint sweet milk, one cup sifted flour, stir together and cook until thick. When it is cool stir in flour, beaten eggs, two cups sugar and one cup chopped citron. Bake until it sets; serve cold with or without sauce.”


Notes – This was another surprise. When I was making it I was very concerned because it’s not a normal custard recipe and the cooked milk and flour was basically glue. I seived it to get rid of the lumps and continued with the recipe (except I replaced the chopped citron with some grated lemon peel) before baking it in a water bath for about 45 mins and it actually turned out very well. Probably better served hot.

Custard Pudding

Apple Meringue from ‘The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book’ 1896

Apple Meringue.

Use Meringue I. and pile lightly on baked apples, brown in oven, cool, and serve with Boiled Custard.
Canned peaches, drained from their liquor, may be prepared in the same way; it is then called Peach Meringue.

Baked Apples.
Wipe and core sour apples. Put in a baking-dish, and fill cavities withsugar and spice. Allow one-half cup sugar and one-fourth teaspooncinnamon or nutmeg to eight apples. If nutmeg is used, a few dropslemon juice and few gratings from rind of lemon to each apple is an improvement. Cover bottom of dish with boiling water, and bake in a hot oven until soft, basting often with syrup in dish. Serve hot or cold with cream. Many prefer to pare apples before baking. When this is done, core before paring, that fruit may keep in shape. In the fall, when apples are at their best, do not add spices to apples, as their flavor cannot be improved; but towards spring they become somewhat tasteless, and spice is an improvement.

Meringue I.

Whites 2 eggs.
2 tablespoons powdered sugar.
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice or
1/4 teaspoon vanilla.
Beat whites until stiff, add sugar gradually and continue beating, then add flavoring.

Notes – This was a bit of a multi-step recipe. You bake the apples first, then make the meringue before scooping the meringue onto the apples and baking again. It was very nice but very, very sweet. I think you could probably refrain from putting sugar on the apples at all, just a little spice.
Apple Meringue

Other Elements

– There were nuts and olives on the table for snacking

– I served baked potatoes, sliced tomato and beetroot with the chicken as per the menu. They also suggested lettuce but I just didn’t have any.

– Small bread rolls can be placed inside the folded napkins.

– Cheese is served with salad, bread or crackers before the dessert (but possibly between the pastry and dessert).



  • ‘Last Dinner on the Titanic’ by Rich Archbold and Dana McCauley
  • For how to set a table I suggest ‘The Butler’s Guide to Running the Home and Other Graces’ by Stanely Auger and Fiona St. Aubyn, although my own table setting was limited by what I had on hand. For more about table settings and serving dinner you can try ‘Dinner is Served’ by Arthur Inch and Arlene Hirst.
  • For table etiquette see ‘The Etiquette of Today’ by Edith B. Ordway (although it is a little late).
  • I folded the napkins into a Bishop’s Hat using these instructions

No Peasant Left Behind

Chicken Soup à L’Ouverture de Cuisine

The challenge this fortnight: soups, stews, sauces and gravies. I set out wanting to explore the origins of the classic French dish poule au pot, and the seemingly simple chicken stew turned out to be rather intriguing.


Henry IV. Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Henry IV. Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The story goes that Henri IV of France aka Henry of Navarre, Henry the Great, Good King Henry or The Green Gallant (1553-1610), left with a nation devastated by more than 30 years of war between Catholics and Protestants, wanted to lead France back to prosperity. After a game of jeu de paume (the precursor of tennis), Henri and the Duke of Savoy were discussing the future of the kingdom and Henri says:


“si Dieu me donne encore de la vie, je feray qu’il n’y aura point de labourer en mon Royaume, qui n’ait moyen d’avoir une poule dans son pot”[1]

If God continues to give me life, I will ensure that there is no labourer in my kingdom who lacks the means to have a chicken in his pot.


The phrase became a rallying point for the French peasantry, particularly during the French Revolution and the dish has become a classic.

Unfortunately this quote is first recorded by Hardouin Péréfixe de Beaumont some 50 years after Henri’s death and while the sentiment fits with Henri’s efforts to encourage new techniques for farming, land management and even silk farming[2], there is no real evidence that he ever said such a thing. Even if he did, the use of the word “labourer” in French implies only the upper class of land owning peasant, not the majority the lower classes who were landless day labourers[3].

The Recipe

I couldn’t find any recipes which were explicitly linked with Henri, which makes sense since the gist of the phrase clearly emphasises the ability to afford a chicken rather than a particular way of cooking it. For a recipe that is somewhat related you could try this 1895 recipe (in French) for Poule Au Pot Belle-Gabrielle which is named after Henri’s favourite mistress (who was also an early adopter of that newfangled piece of technology: the fork)[4].

 Gabrielle d'Estrées, Mistress of Henry IV of France. By Benjamin Foulon or Maître IDC, 1594-1596 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Gabrielle d’Estrées, Mistress of Henry IV of France. By Benjamin Foulon or Maître IDC, 1594-1596 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For something a bit closer to the time of Henri IV (1553-1610) I turned to L’Ouverture de Cuisine, a cookbook published in 1604, written by Lancelot de Casteau. Lancelot was a master cook in Liège in modern Belgium. He offers a recipe for boiled capon to be served in the first service which goes as follows:

“Boiled capon when it is somewhat cooked, put therein rosemary, marjoram, flour of nutmeg, a salted lemon cut into slices, a reumer of white wine, or verjuice, & butter, some beef marrow bones, & let them stew together well, served on toasted white bread.”[5]

Seems simple enough right? But what on earth is a reumer? It took a lot of digging, but eventually I got there. It’s the French name for a Dutch or German wineglass called a roemer named after the Romans who had introduced the Germans to glass-making. The green glass was shaped into round cups with thick stems covered in prunts or small lumps of glass. The prunts helped people hold onto the cups with greasy fingers during meals[6]. Although quite simple in form the glasses could be highly decorated with diamond point engraving and enamel and they can be seen in many paintings of the period. For extant examples try here, or here, or here.

Pieter Claesz, Still LIfe with Salt Tub, c. 1644. Pieter Claesz (1597/1598-1660) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pieter Claesz, Still Life with Salt Tub, c. 1644. Pieter Claesz (1597/1598-1660) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 So how much does a reumer contain? The best information I can find says that in the 16th century glasses contained between 120 and 400ml[7], so basically anywhere from half a cup to more than a cup and a half.


The Redaction

 Chicken Soup

1 chicken (capon if you can find it)

A large sprig of rosemary

1 tsp dried marjoram

1/4 nutmeg, grated

1 preserved lemon, cut into slices

3/4 cup of dry white wine, or to taste

1 tbsp butter

3 or 4 beef marrow bones

Bread to serve


1. Place the whole chicken in a pot or slow cooker, cover with water and cook until the outside has turned white.

2. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the bread. Cover with a lid and allow to simmer about 90 mins or until the chicken is cooked and falling of the bone. If cooking in a slow cooker cook on low for 8 hrs.

3. Remove the chicken and shred the meat. Add the shredded chicken back into the stock and season to taste. Serve over toasted white bread.


The Recipe: Boiled Capon from L’Ouverture de Cuisine by Master Lancelot de Casteau (transcription available here)

The Date: 1604

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: I put it in the slow cooker overnight, so prep time was about 15 mins and cooking was about 8 hrs.

Total cost: The chicken was about $15 and the preserved lemons were pricey at $13 (would be a lot cheaper if home-made) but the marrow bones were only $5 and everything else I already had. All up around $30 for about 6-8 serves.

How successful was it?: It tasted good, although the grease sat on the top and had to be stirred well into the stock. The chicken was tender and juicy, and the stock was pleasantly citrusy.

How accurate?: Well obviously the choice of the slow cooker wasn’t exactly period, but it worked for me with the time constraints and mimicked a long, slow simmer nicely. I couldn’t get my hands on a capon so I used a free range chicken instead. I don’t know if the preserved lemons were the right choice, they certainly tasted good but I couldn’t find much about the use of preserved lemons in Europe at this time. Finally, the recipe didn’t specify exactly what to do with the chicken once it was cooked. Was it served whole? In its liquid? Cut up or shredded and served as a soup? Since the stock was tasty I went with the latter option and shredded the chicken before returning it to the hot stock.


[1]Hardouin de Péréfixe de Beaumont, Histoire du Roy Henry le Grand (Chez Charles Osmont, 1681), 528.

[2] Vincent J. Pitts, Henri IV of France: His Reign and Age (United States of America: JHU Press, 2009), 259.

[3] Ibid., 258.

[4] Leo Moulin, Eating and Drinking in Europe (Antwerp: Mercatorfonds, 2002), 196.

[5]Daniel Myers, “Ouverture de Cuisine,” Medieval Cookery, 2012,

[6] Corning Glass Center, Glass from the Corning Museum of Glass : a Guide to the Collections. (Corning, N.Y: Corning Glass Center, 1955), 39,; Percival MacIver, The Glass Collector;a Guide to Old English Glass, (New York: Mead and Company, 1919), 264,

[7] Moulin, Eating and Drinking in Europe, 198.



Beaumont, Hardouin de Péréfixe de. Histoire du Roy Henry le Grand. Chez Charles Osmont, 1681.

Corning Glass Center. Glass from the Corning Museum of Glass : a Guide to the Collections. Corning, N.Y: Corning Glass Center, 1955.

MacIver, Percival. The Glass Collector; a Guide to Old English Glass, New York: Mead and Company, 1919.

Moulin, Leo. Eating and Drinking in Europe. Antwerp: Mercatorfonds, 2002.

Myers, Daniel. “Ouverture de Cuisine.” Medieval Cookery, 2012.

Pitts, Vincent J. Henri IV of France: His Reign and Age. United States of America: JHU Press, 2009.