Historic Recipe: Cucumber Soup (1920)

Source: A Year’s Dinners; 365 Seasonal Dinners with Instructions for cooking by May Little (c.1920)

This is a fascinating tome that doesn’t just include recipes but clearly lays out what Ms Little believed to be winning combinations of foodstuffs for daily consumption. So for instance on May 11 this soup recipe is paired with baked red mullet, summer stew, grilled steak and tomatoes, potato chips, pancakes and cheese straws.

In my mind this is rather a lot of food, but The Spectator, who reviewed the book when it was first published in 1910, disagreed. After dismissing the recipes as “good and practical, if not remarkable” they then went on to warn housewives to approach the menus with discretion as “Though they are called ‘dinners’ some of them would be more suitable for luncheons”. Which gives you an idea of how much food the average, middle class Edwardian consumed

Recipe:
Enough for four or five people
1 cucumber (large)
1 quart white stock
1 oz butter
1 small onion
1oz flour
1 gill cream
2 yolks of eggs
Salt and pepper

Peel the cucumber, cut into inch lengths, put in a saucepan with onion and boiling stock, cook until tender, pass through a sieve, cook the flour in the butter, add the puree, bring to the boil, stirring all the time, add the yolks and the cream, but do not allow the soup to boil again, season and serve with croutons of fried bread. A little green colouring may be added to this soup if required.

Let’s start with the two obvious questions that this raises- what did May Little have against full stops and why might green colouring possibly be ‘required’? The first question we may never resolve and the only answer that I can come up with to the second is to try and trick you into believing that you are eating something with vegetables in it, when in fact you are necking straight double cream.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This recipe sounded intriguing from the off – “Cucumber soup!” I thought, “But cucumber has such a delicate flavour, how could it possibly work in soup?” Let’s see shall we…

I peeled and chopped my cucumber as instructed, this was a new experience, I have never peeled a cucumber before and I doubt I shall again. I chucked it in a pan with a finely chopped onion and 2 pints (a quart) of homemade vegetable stock (which is what I’m assuming ‘white’ stock is). I simmered it for about 10-15 minutes until everything was soft and then tried to rub the mixture through a sieve. In retrospect a blender would have been easier and might not have resulted in the slightly gritty and sort of greeny-grey liquid that emerged from the process. What I did not get was puree. The recipe promised puree, I felt cheated briefly and then ploughed on.

I made a roux from the butter and flour and then added the rest of the ingredients including quarter of a pint of double cream. The outcome was a slightly off-white creation which thickened to an appropriate texture over the heat.

So what did it taste like? I mean, mostly dairy. With a very faint hint of something that might once have been a cucumber in a past life. Like I imagine homeopathy treatments would taste if they were cut with cream instead of water. It was also incredibly rich, I’m not someone that balks at eating a whole cake, but a large bowl of this defeated me.

Suggested alterations: Don’t do it kids

Final verdict: Probably would not recommend unless hot milk products and heart attacks are your favourite thing.

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