One of the most famous Victorian dishes is a hilarious lie

One of the most famous Victorian dishes is a hilarious lie

“Goodness! To issue umbrellas, the The Scots are pulling porridge! Exclaims Neddie Seagoon, a character voiced by comedian Harry Secombe on the popular 1950s British radio show. The Goon Show. The British military forces have just been hit by a “big smoking mud” and do not have it.

“Porridge at tea time?” Roared Major Denis Bloodnok, voiced by Peter Sellers, in horror. “They are trying to unbalance our diet!

Dismayed by Scottish tactics and gastronomic habits, Seagoon prepares a savage retaliation: “If the Scots want to wage a war on nutrition, we have in our arsenal an English dish twice as low in calories as porridge and … twice more deadly.

“Seagoon, you’re not going to shoot…” Bloodnock said. ” Yes ! Windsor Brown Soup! »Seagoon bellows.

Brown Windsor soup has been the butt of many jokes about The Goon Show. Muddy, heavy, and devoid of any discernible texture or flavor, it was a recurring comedic substitute for all that was terrible in British cuisine. Writer Terence Alan “Spike” Milligan, born to an Irish father, had no qualms about spitting all aspects of British culture, especially its cuisine. In the 1956 episode “The Macreekie Rising of ’74”, the British militarized the soup by pouring it into “nasty cannonballs”, while in the 1957 episode “Emperor of the Universe” Seagoon l ‘injects into his subjects to transform them into English. .

The fame of Brown Windsor soup extends far beyond the hijinks of The Goon Show. Cookbooks including The Daily Mail’s Modern British Cookbook “Thick Meat Soup” is generally described as a popular dish in the Victorian era, with some recipe writers going so far as to call it “Queen Victoria’s Favorite”. The dish is so synonymous with traditional Victorian-era gastronomy that its recipes appear in The unofficial Harry Potter cookbook and The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook. Characters dine on Windsor Brown Soup in 1994 episode Poirot by Agatha Christie, just like they do in the 2021 TV adaptation of Around the world in 80 days.

Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan from The Goon Show in 1957.
Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan from The Goon Show in 1957. Radio Times / Getty Images

There’s just one problem: Queen Victoria has never heard of Windsor Brown Soup. As Annie Gray writes in The greedy queen: eating with Victoria, “Windsor Brown Soup, which is often cited as a Queen’s favorite dish, did not exist at all in the 19th century.”

“Everyone in England grew up believing in Windsor Brown Soup,” says Glyn Hughes, author of England’s Lost Foods. “What’s really, really weird is how deeply ingrained this is in the British psyche. Go see anyone on the street and ask them about Windsor Brown Soup, and they’ll tell you that it was terrible and horrible, but everyone ate it in the Victorian era.

Hughes began his scientific quest to document the origins of his national cuisine because, he says, “English cuisine has a terrible reputation, which has been widely justified”. The project started with a few entrees – a spotted cock here, a Yorkshire pudding there – but has evolved over the years into a collection of over 3,700 entrees, as well as a trio of books. The loathsome oatmeal was one of the first things Hughs looked into, as he thought it would be a cinch.

“I thought Windsor Brown Soup should be so easy because it’s so, very famous,” Hughes says. “I thought I would go to one of the famous Victorian cookbooks and look for it. But there is no reference to it in any of them, nothing, nothing, nothing. Mystified, he turned to the British newspaper archives, which contain a large number of articles from the 1800s. Still nothing. Hughes even paid two researchers to go through a century of archives at the National Railway Museum, as multiple sources have claimed Windsor Brown Soup was once a staple of British train travel. Given that rail companies tend to avoid serving hot soups on moving vehicles, this claim already seemed suspect. Sure enough, not a single railroad company menu or cookbook featured the soup.

“There is absolutely no mention of Windsor Brown Soup in the Victorian series, nothing until the 1920s,” he says. “It’s really, really weird, this mass hallucination going on.”

Basically, Windsor Brown Soup is a fairly primitive dish. Jamie Oliver’s current recipes typically consist of a hearty brown stew with slice of beef or lamb. According to some accounts, madeira or sherry were present to liven things up, either incorporated into the soup itself or drunk on the side to make the whole thing palatable. Considering the simple list of ingredients, it’s plausible that 19th-century English diners ate comparable brown stews, although they never called them by such a name.

Some of the confusion may come from Windsor soup, invented by Charles Elmé Francatelli, chef to Queen Victoria, and included in the 1846 edition of The modern cook. However, this particular dish, sometimes also known as Windsor calf’s foot, was a white soup made with cream, rice, and often calf’s feet. There was also the Windsor Vermicelli Soup, a recipe for another white broth soup, this time with noodles, first published in 1834 and supposedly served to King George IV. With the exception of the word ‘Windsor’, neither dish resembles the brown Windsor soup we know today.

Brown Windsor soup may not have existed, but Windsor Brown Soap most certainly did. Made in Windsor, the soap was said to be a favorite hygiene product of Queen Victoria, Napoleon Bonaparte and Winston Churchill, whose wife had previously ordered 78 pounds of scent bars.

The legendary, inedible brown Windsor soap.
The legendary, inedible brown Windsor soap. Public domain / Boston Public Library

“So you have the Windsor soup, which is completely white,” says Hughes, referring to Windsor soup. “And at the same time you have Windsor brown soap. So the joke is you put the two together and you end up with something completely awful.

Brown Windsor soup is a prime example of life imitating art, a punchline turned into a real dish. In the past, vilified – but still largely fictitious – soup has become a staple on The Goon Show, it made its way into the national consciousness and stayed there. His terrible reputation is a big part of why The independent remarked: “We have sometimes heard, but never seen, this traditional soup which is clearly no longer in vogue these days. I challenge you to find it on a menu anywhere.

While few Brits have ever seen Windsor Brown Soup in the wild, many will fiercely defend its historic reputation. Hughes has spent years questioning the Victorian roots of Windsor Brown Soup – “I keep trying to correct the Wikipedia page, but I gave up” – and faced considerable fury for his efforts.

Engraving of the Soup Kitchen at the Conder Street Mission Hall in 1881.
Engraving of the soup kitchen at the Conder Street mission hall in 1881. duncan1890 / Getty Images

“What I found particularly strange about the Brown Windsor story is that people get really, really mad when you tell them it wasn’t the famous Victorian soup,” Hughes says. Over the years he says he has received indignant emails from all kinds of readers, including a prominent British politician who swears he remembers eating Windsor Brown Soup on train trips. “People don’t like it when you challenge their beliefs.”

Culinary myths are often surprisingly difficult to dispel. The Singapore Sling was around long before the Raffles Hotel claimed to invent it, legendary bartender Jerry Thomas never invented Tom & Jerry, and Elvis loved blueberry jams, not bananas, on his bacon sandwich. At one point, the origin stories just seem true and, in the case of a humble soup, too trivial to question.

“It’s so small and unimportant that you don’t bother studying it,” says Hughes. “It makes you wonder, how many things do we believe that if we looked at them we would find out to be completely absurd? “

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