White soup and Turns about the Room
How exactly does one make a white soup for a Regency Ball? What’s negus and why was it added to soup? Did one drink it, or eat it, or both? Find out the answers to these questions and more, in this episode of My Cousin Jane.
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Books referenced in this episode
Note: Transcripts on this site are the scripts I used when preparing to record the show. They may or may not be a 100% faithful representation of the final recording. Audio clips of Pride & Prejudice come from Karen Savage’s narration of Pride & Prejudice, courtesy of LibriVox.org.
Welcome to My Cousin Jane, a podcast about Jane Austen and her works. With your host, Lee Falin. Season 2 – episode 11.
Welcome back to another episode of My Cousin Jane. Each week, we look at what you might think of as the behind the scenes featurettes or deleted scenes of a particular chapter in Austen’s books.
This week, we’re going to talk about Pride & Prejudice Chapter 11.
As always, if you enjoy the show and would like to see it continue, please consider supporting us by going to MyCousinJane.com, signing up for our newsletter, or clicking on the little donate button.
In chapter 11 Jane is feeling well enough to join Elizabeth and the Netherfield gang in the drawing room. After making sure Jane is warm enough, they start discussing Charles’ idea of having a ball at Netherfield, and the rest of the evening is spent in a playful banter. Playful at least on Elizabeth’s part.
Let’s jump in to this banter at the point where Caroline asks her brother about the ball. And as always, our audio clips come courtesy of Karen Savage and Librivox.org:
“By the bye Charles, are you really serious in meditating a dance at Netherfield? I would advise you, before you determine on it, to consult the wishes of the present party; I am much mistaken if there are not some among us to whom a ball would be rather a punishment than a pleasure.”
“If you mean Darcy,” cried her brother, “he may go to bed, if he chooses, before it begins; but as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing, and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards.”Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 11
There are a lot of interesting things to discuss about Regency balls. We talked about some of them in previous episodes, and we’ll talk about a bunch more in the future. But today I want to talk about white soup.
If you search for white soup recipes, you’ll find a lot of “Regency inspired” white soup recipes. One thing you’ll notice about them is that they are all quite different.
That’s because even during the Regency era, there were a lot of ways to make white soup. There were really fancy versions made by the aristocracy (or rather, by their servants), as well as many versions of what we might think of as “more economic” white soup.
If you ask someone why “white soup” is called “white”, you’ll hear a lot of different explanations. Some people claim that it was always made without red meat, but this wasn’t even true in Regency times. Others claim that it’s because of the ground almonds, or cream, or some other ingredient.
The fact is that it’s impossible to say definitively, because you can easily find variations on this recipe that go back to the early 1600s, and many historians believe the recipe originates in the Middle Ages.
There’s also some disagreement about how white soup was usually served at Regency balls. Some writers portray it as a traditional soup, which you would sit down at a table and eat from a bowl. While others convey the impression that it was served more like a warm punch.
The only thing that can be said conclusively about white soup is that it usually “looked white” and could be made lots of different ways.
If you want to know the kind of white soup Jane Austen ate at home, you can grab a copy of Martha Lloyd’s Household Book, a collection of handwritten recipes and medicinal remedies from Jane Austen’s friend / housekeeper, Martha Lloyd.
Finding themselves very firmly in the more “economic” side of society, the white soup prepared by the Austen family was relatively simple:
Make a gravy of any kind of meat, add to it the yolks of four eggs boiled hard and pounded very fine, 2 oz. of sweet almonds pounded, as much cream as will make it a good colour.Martha Lloyd’s Household Book
But for a more refined recipe, we can turn to the most popular cookbook of the early 19th century, A New System of Domestic Cookery by Maria Rundell. Though this book was first published in 1806, its recipes were in wide use before that time.
Take a scrag of mutton, a knuckle of veal, after cutting off as much meat as will make collops, two or three shank bones of mutton nicely cleaned and a quarter of a pound of very fine undrest lean gammon of bacon: with a bunch of sweet herbs, a piece of lemon-peel, two or three onions, three blades of mace and a desert spoonful of white pepper; boil all in three quarts of water till the meat falls quite to pieces. Next day take off the fat, clear the jelly from the sediment, and put it in a saucepan of the nicest tin. If macaroni is used it should be added soon enough to get perfectly tender, after soaking in cold water. Vermicelli may be added after the thickening, as it requires less time to do.
Have ready the thickening which is to be made as follows: Blanch a quarter of a pound of sweet almonds, and beat them to a paste in a marble mortar, with a spoonful of water to prevent their oiling; mince a large slice of drest veal or chicken and beat it with a piece of stale white bread; add all this to a pint of thick cream, a bit of fresh lemon-peel and a blade of mace, in the finest powder. Boil it a few minutes; add to it a pint of soup, and strain and pulp it through a coarse sieve; this thickening is then fit for putting it to the rest, which should boil for an hour afterwards.A New System of Domestic Cookery by Maria Rundell
So, clearly the second version is much more involved. Not only does it require more expensive ingredients, (such as veal or mutton rather than “any meat”, more expensive spices, and almonds), the recipe is also much more labor intensive, and requires at least two days to make up a batch.
The funny thing about serving white soup at balls in Regency times was that most people probably wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between soup made with a fancy recipe compared with a more economical one, because white soup at balls was almost always spiked with negus.
Negus is a type of mulled win, a mixture of port wine, citrus, sugar, and sometimes spices such as nutmeg. The main difference between Regency negus and modern mulled wine is negus was mixed with hot water.
Negus has a very interesting history, and became very popular in the early 1700s. It’s mentioned in the works of a variety of Regency and Victorian writers, including Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Emily and Charlotte Brontë, William Thackeray, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
This definitely gives more weight to the “served as a warm punch” interpretation, especially when you consider Fanny Price’s reflections at the end of her first ball in Mansfield Park:
creeping slowly up the principal staircase, pursued by the ceaseless country-dance, feverish with hopes and fears, soup and negus, sore-footed and fatigued, restless and agitated, yet feeling, in spite of everything, that a ball was indeed delightful.Mansfield Park, Chapter 28
Turn about the room
Speaking of rooms and dancing, here’s one more interesting clip from chapter 11:
Miss Bingley made no answer, and soon afterwards got up and walked about the room. Her figure was elegant, and she walked well; but Darcy, at whom it was all aimed, was still inflexibly studious. In the desperation of her feelings, she resolved on one effort more; and, turning to Elizabeth, said,—
“Miss Eliza Bennet, let me persuade you to follow my example, and take a turn about the room. I assure you it is very refreshing after sitting so long in one attitude.”
Elizabeth was surprised, but agreed to it immediately. Miss Bingley succeeded no less in the real object of her civility: Mr. Darcy looked up.Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 11
The phrase “take a turn about the room” is such an interesting phrase and it’s a phrase that is so often quoted by people familiar with Pride & Prejudice, that I wondered where it first originated.
The earliest use of it I could find in English was in 1687, in a pamphlet by Roger L’Estrange, whom you might know as the man who first translated Aesops fables into English, though he had a rather interesting political career prior to that, and translated many other important classical texts.
But according to Google’s Ngram graphs of the English language, while you do see the phrase appear in a few places in the 1700 and 1800s, the phrase wasn’t really that popular in English writing until around the year 2005, when its usage rockets up exponentially.
I can only assume this is due to the use of this line in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
That wraps up episode 11 of season 2 of My Cousin Jane.
As always, if you enjoy the show and would like to help us out, please consider supporting us by heading over to MyCousinJane.com and clicking on the little donate button.
Either way, thanks so much for listening.
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