Thursday, June 9, 2005
Mrs. Dubois, Mme. Deschamps: Soup Inventors?
By ROGER M. GRACE
A Mrs. Dubois of London and a Mme. Deschamps of Paris—their first names obscured by the passage of time—are among those playing prominent roles in “soup history.”
At least according to some accounts, they played those roles. Historical inaccuracies abound when it comes to the origin of foods, and perhaps when it comes to many matters.
Mrs. Dubois is generally credited with having invented “portable soup” around 1756. That substance, as you might recall from previous columns, was soup boiled down to a jelly, which hardened after setting. It lasted for years, and was reconstituted when placed in boiling water. This forerunner of today’s instant soups was also known as “soup cakes,” “pocket soup,” or “veal glue.”
Vegetables and organ meats were the ingredients Mrs. Debois used in the soups she turned into tablets. She and one William Cookworthy reportedly manufactured portable soup for the Royal Navy.
However, portable soup existed prior to 1756 when Mrs. Dubois purportedly invented it. There’s a recipe for it in the 1742 book, “Art of Cookery” published in Williamsburg, Pa.
In medieval times, it’s said, Hungarian nomads made a version of portable soup. They boiled salted beef, dried it, ground it into powder, and later made soup of it by adding the powder to boiling water.
Mme. Deschamps is said to have invented julienne soup, a dish once fashionable in the United States. The word “julienne” refers to something cut into match-like strips such as julienne carrots or julienne potatoes. The soup was a consommé containing vegetables sliced in the julienne manner.
The Frederick (Md.) News on Oct. 21, 1922 described Mme. Deschamps as “a Paris market woman who died about 1897” and had “supplied vegetables to the Tuilleries,” a palace restored by Napoleon III (and burned down in 1871).
Is her supposed invention of the soup mere legend?
It is if you accept the version published in The Times Recorder in Zanesville, Ohio on Sept. 27, 1945. It said that “[t]he soup is named for its inventor, the famous Julien, who came to Boston about the time of the French Revolution and established the ‘Restorer’ on Milk street.”
This latter account apparently has gained greater acceptance than the one crediting Mme. Dubois. Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, Second Ed. (1983), defines “julienne” as “a clear soup containing vegetables cut into strips or bits” invented by none other than Julien.
The Mirriam-Webster online dictionary, by contrast, makes no mention of Julien and says that “julienne” is “probably” from “a woman’s name.”
Chef James T. Ehler, on his website foodreference.com, scoffs: “Some sources claim that a certain chef Jean Julien first used this method of preparing vegetables, but I have seen no supporting evidence.”
“A Book of Unusual Soups” by Mary D. Chambers, published in 1923, has yet another explanation for the name. She wrote that “the name ‘Julienne’ is applied to a soup made with vegetables in season in the month of July.”
Now obscure, julienne soup was once prominent. Campbell began making it by 1899 when it offered only 10 types of soups, and included it in its “21 kinds” (analogous to Heinz’s “57 varieties”) in the early decades of the 20th Century.
Who invented turtle soup? An article in the Atlanta Constitution on Feb. 2, 1914 said:
“According to some authorities, Bristol, England has a special claim to fame as the city where turtle soup was invented by a seventeenth century mayor who was also a ship owner. The captain of one of those ships brought home a live turtle, thinking that the owner would have it in his fishpond. This happened just as the mayor was about to give a civic banquet and deeming that his guests might appreciate a new dish, he ordered the turtle to be stewed. The aldermen were so delighted with the novelty that they re-elected him to the municipal chair nine times running.”
While the tale of the mayor of Bristol may or may not be true, it’s doubtful that turtle soup was not served until the 1600s. In the book “Food in History,” Reah Tannahill speculates that in “many parts of the world” in prehistoric times “large mollusk or reptile shells must have been used” as containers for foods, “as they were on the Amazon in the nineteenth century.” It was there and then, she noted, that “the naturalist Henry Walter Bates sampled a dish made from the entrails of the turtle, chopped up and made into a delicious soup called sarapatel, which is generally boiled in the concave upper shell of the animal.”
Next week, I’ll look at more accounts of inventions of soups.
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