It’s the season for soup in northern climes, so it is fitting that soup figures prominately in Season 2, Episode 3 (and 4) of Downton Abbey, currently airing Sunday nights on PBS at 9 EST.
The famous General Sir Herbert Strutt comes to inspect Downton Abbey, newly transformed into a convalescent facility for military officers. Chaffeur Tom Branson, seizes the opportunity to make a political statement. In case you missed the recipe, it is really quite simple to prepare.
A simple blend of “Oil and ink and a bit of a cow pat, all mixed with sour milk”
- fresh cow pat
- sour milk
Combine ingredients, and when the opportunity arises, toss the lot all over an important official like a General, but be sure to leave a vague note to your beloved for another servant to find so that you are caught before you do something you will regret.
English Cookery– the worst in the world?
While famous British chefs (Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay) have helped boost the reputation of English cuisine, I am pretty sure food critics still compare some English fare with the quality of Branson’s soup. Apparently that reputation goes back hundreds of years. From Mrs. Beeton’s delightful book, Beetons Book of Household Management, published in 1861:
IT HAS BEEN ASSERTED, that English cookery is, nationally speaking, far from being the best in the world. More than this, we have been frequently told by brilliant foreign writers, half philosophers, half chefs, that we are the worst cooks on the face of the earth, and that the proverb which alludes to the divine origin of food, and the precisely opposite origin of its preparers, is peculiarly applicable to us islanders.
Saved by the Scots
All is not lost, however:
Not, however, to the inhabitants of the whole island; for, it is stated in a work which treats of culinary operations, north of the Tweed, that the “broth” of Scotland claims, for excellence and wholesomeness, a very close second place to the bouillon, or common soup of France.
Cock-a-Leekie: traditional robbie burns menu item
One of the most famous of Scottish soups is Cock-a-Leekie (essentially chicken and leeks). While it can be enjoyed anytime, it holds a place of honor on the traditional meal served to celebrate the birth of famous Scottish poet, Robbie Burns this time of year. Robbie Burns’ actual birthday is January 25 so purists will celebrate on that date, but typically the meal is held the weekend before or after that date if it falls during the middle of the week. There is a rich scottish heritage in Canada so I have been lucky enough to have been invited to annual celebrations. This is a very serious event with a set program complete with bag pipes, speeches in an language which sort of resembles English, haggis (yum) and scotch (which some people need to summon the courage to eat haggis. We missed one dinner this past weekend (where all my girlfriends get together and do some less serious dancing) but will be attending another this coming weekend.
- 4 lbs. of chicken: being a thrifty Scot, use what you have on hand. An older chicken–which is where the name “cock” came from–or equivalent of bone-in breasts, legs, thighs.
- 1 lb leeks (about 12) trimmed, cleaned and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 8 cups (4 pints) stock or water
- 1/4 cup (1 oz) long grained rice
- One teaspoon brown sugar
- Salt and pepper
- Bouquet Garni of bay leaf, parsley, thyme (tied with string or enclosed in cheesecloth)
- Optional: 1/2 cup (4oz) cooked, prunes (without stones)
- Optional: chopped bacon
- Put the chicken (and bacon) in a large stock pot and cover with water
- Bring to the boil and remove any scum.
- Add three-quarters of the leeks, (green as well as white sections), herbs (tied together in a bundle), salt and pepper and return to the boil.
- Simmer gently for 2-3 hours, adding more water/stock if necessary.
- Remove the chicken and allow to cool enough to remove the meat.
- Skim visible fat from the stock pot, using a flat spoon or paper towel. I have also used ice cubes (the fat sticks to the cube and you take it out)
- If you have more time, you can let the stock cool, and let the fat solidify.
- Take the meat from the bones and put back into the soup pot (you can also reserve some of the meat for another dish)
- Add the rice, drained prunes and the remaining leeks and simmer for at least another 30 minutes.
- Check for flavour and serve with a little chopped parsley.
Serves 6/8 people