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By Danielle O’Dwyer


We’ve reached that cold time of year again, were we bring out our favourite soup recipes to warm us from the inside out. Are you like me and just accept that soup has always been around or have you wondered about its history? Does it have a purpose other than warming you up? Are all soups just hot and savoury?

There has been evidence of the existence of a form of soup since the middle ages. Before then cooking with boiling water was not a common technique until the invention of waterproof containers made from clay. Originally light or clear soups were more generally viewed as adjuncts to medicine, easily digestible preparations employed in feeding the sick, and elderly or small children. In the eighteenth century a concoction of clear soups known as a ‘restaurant’ (in French means restore) became fashionable in Paris as a health food. The health food itself lent its name to the place where it was eaten: thus the soup house became known as the restaurant.

The word soup may have come from the Middle English word ‘soupen’ which meant to drink in sips, which is how most soups were consumed by the sick and elderly. The Old French word ‘souper’, obviously a parallel term, meant to take as an evening meal, in this context the evening meal was presumed to be light. However the ‘souper’ itself was a piece of bread placed in the bowl into which broth was pour over. In England, the piece of bread was once referred to as the ‘sops’ and it was the universal practice up until the nineteenth century for country people to put bread in soup before consumption. More fashionable recipes called for toast or even chopped bread fried in butter (croutons), but the essential concept was the same: the moist bread thickened the soup. This custom lingers on in the most traditional recipes, such as French onion soup, where toast or croutons help keep the melted cheese from sinking. The addition of bread to soup was viewed as inelegant by the end of the eighteenth century. Other types of thickeners especially roux (flour cooked in lard or butter) grew in popularity, as well as puree. Pureed cooked root vegetables such as parsnips, turnips, potatoes appear in Victorian recipes as healthier substitutes for roux.

Cold soups are particular variation on the traditional soup, wherein the temperature when served is kept at or below room temperature. An example of a savory chilled soup is gazpacho, a chilled vegetable-based soup originating in Spain. Fruit soups are served warm or cold depending on the recipe. Cold fruit soups are served when fruit is in season during hot weather: there are also recipes that call for dried fruits and are served warm at any time of year. Cold and warm fruit soups are common in Scandinavian, Baltic, Middle and Eastern European cuisines, while hot fruit soups with meat appear in Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Chinese cuisines.

Portable soup was devised in the eighteenth century by boiling seasoned meat until a thick resinous syrup is left that could be dried and stored for months at a time. About 1897 Dr. John Dorrance a chemist with the Campbell Company invented the process for making condensed soup. Such soups can be heated and eaten as is or liquid can be added. Canned soups are also used as a base for homemade soups with cooks adding pasta, meat or cream. Dried packet soups have also been produced; with their soft foil packaging making them ideal for throwing in your bag.

When you next buy soup or you buy the ingredients for your favourite soup. You might want to think of someone less fortunate than yourself and donate the price of your soup to the Sacred Heart Mission (go to Support Us and follow prompts). Sacred Heart dining hall offers free meals to the homeless 365 days a year. Their meals program also gives people a chance to gain access to vital services. Like help in securing accommodation, developing life skills and drug and alcohol programs. Your soup would not only be a balm to your soul, you would also be doing something worthwhile in someone else’s life

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